Thursday, July 1, 2010

Florida solar program ends with $41 million backlog


Florida's solar energy rebate program ended Wednesday with a backlog of more than 11,000 applications totaling at least $41.6 million.

Gov. Charlie Crist has hinted that a special session to address energy issues could be used to extend the program, which paid out $25 million in rebates between 2006 and 2009. The program, which paid up to $20,000 for home solar electric panels and up to $500 for solar water heaters, ran out of money a year ago.

The "Clean Energy Congress" on Tuesday recommended extending the program. The Legislature, dealing with a cash-strapped budget, has not found any money for the program since 2008 and state law called for it to expire on June 30.

On Wednesday, the Florida Energy and Climate Commission agreed to ask the U.S. Department of Energy if $13 million in federal economic stimulus dollars provided to the state for energy projects could be put towards the solar rebate program backlog, said Rob Vickers, executive director of the Governor's Energy Office.

The DOE inspector general issued an audit earlier this month blaming the agency for allowing Florida to spend stimulus money for solar projects completed before Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. "They [DOE] have sort of given us mixed signals in the past [as to whether] there would be willingness to use some amount of the money to address the rebate program backlog," Vickers said.

Most states pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy by putting taxes on electric bills -- but not Florida, said James M. Fenton, director of the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa. HB 1267 by Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, would have extended the program and applied a 25 cents monthly charge on utility bills to pay for the solar rebate backlog and for new projects, but the bill was never heard in committee.

"I don't think Florida will ever do that because it is a tax," Fenton said. "They [legislators] argued forever on whether to raise the cigarette tax."

Some solar installers say the state is obligated to pay for the rebates, although Vickers noted that the application states that rebates will be paid only if funding is available. Shawn Lorenz, who works for Sunbelt Solar Energy in Sarasota and is a member of Floridians for Energy Independence, said applicants and solar installers had to follow detailed guidelines from the state to meet rebate requirements.

"So now it's the solar contractor's fault or the person who installed the system's fault for not knowing about the little wiggle room the Legislature put in?" Lorenz said. "That seems rather dubious to me."

(Story provided by The Florida Tribune. Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

www.dsireusa.org has reported since Deceber 2009 that Florida was out of money and any reputable solar contractor (I am one) would have informed their clients of this. All any legitimate business owner would have to do is pick up the phone and call the energy office of the governor at (850)487-3800 and they would have been told that there were no funds currently available. Case Closed.

Jack said...

I for one entered into contract with my solar installer in July, 2009. I do not see this as case closed at all. I had to wait for four months for panels to be manufactured. I think the state is obligated. That is a pretty lame response for someone in the industry. I am glad you were not my contractor....

Jack

Anonymous said...

Jack. I appreciate your reply, and your investment in solar. This is not an attack on any individual solar installer. All I am saying is that the information was available to the public through the energy office of the governor. If I was your contractor, and it took 4 months(???) to order your materials, I would have checked into the rebate before installing the system (November 2009). Your case is unusual due to it being almost 12 months old. I was directing my comments towards systems primarily installed in 2010, which make up over half of the back log, when it was very clear( dsire and governors office) there were no more funds. I want to be clear that I am ALL FOR FUNDING THE BACKLOG OF REBATES. I have been in business in Florida for almost 10 years, and I know how money comes and goes in this state. Thank you again for leading Florida towards energy independence.

Anonymous said...

I can understand that the politicians don't want to make a move to increase taxes, but there are other alternatives that can work. A possible idea would be to add $1.00 per month (not $.25 like mentioned) to each rate payers electric bill in the form of a “Public Benefits Fund” . That could generate $86 million per year. It is not a tax but a public benefit because funds are now available for those that wish to install solar equipment and benefit from lower electric and hot water heating bills. The money would be collected by the state and put in that fund directly to fund past and future projects.

As mentioned, the utilities can do this now with the PSC approval to pay for future generating facilities and it is not called a tax but it has the same affect as a tax. Gainesville added $.90 per rate payer to fund their feed in Tariff which was met with great support maybe more so now with the Gulf oil spill.

Better still would be to pass a RPS like the northern states and let the clients broker the credits earned. This is very lucrative in NJ, PA, DC, MD and other progressive states. This eliminates the need for a rebate program altogether. However, the existing approved applications should get funded regardless. Not everyone that installed a system is rich like some lawmakers alluded to. And a public benefits fund should not impact the low income families at a dollar a month.

sdisolar said...

The solar program was under funded from day one and had a track record of being funded every June.
I really believed the program would be funded.
The solar customers stuck there neck out to do the right thing and to have a start date and a ending date would make anyone think the money would be there.
Now it,s time for the state to do the right thing. P.S. the Feds gave F.P.L. 200 million dollars for there solar program.

sdisolar said...

The solar program was under funded from day one and had a track record of being funded every June.
I really believed the program would be funded.
The solar customers stuck there neck out to do the right thing and to have a start date and a ending date would make anyone think the money would be there.
Now it,s time for the state to do the right thing. P.S. the Feds gave F.P.L. 200 million dollars for there solar program.

Anonymous said...

I too had a solar system installed in 2010. When I questioned my contractor about the zero dollars in the fund, his reply was Florida has consistently funded the program and they fully expect it to continue. These comments were even posted on the Solar companies website. Although all of that has magically disappeared. I have no idea how I will ever pay for this system. It will never pay for itself in my lifetime.