It’s difficult to find solar advocates among Florida’s gatekeepers. When asked what he believes concerning climate change, Governor Rick Scott has stuck to his “I’m not a scientist” schtick. Meanwhile, Florida’s utilities are decidedly anti-renewable, and have pushed for solar customers to pay more for their connection to the grid. The Florida Public Service Commission, too, has little sympathy for solar; in November, it rolled back the state’s renewable energy and conservation reforms and voted to allow Florida’s solar rebate program to expire.
This is despite the fact that Florida could power itself 25 times over with solar power, if the state was actually interested in taking advantage of its massive potential. Instead, Florida remains 18th in solar installation and fifth in national consumption of coal.
But this hasn’t stopped some businesses and developers from going solar. Some 20 years ago, solar energy cost about $60 per watt. According to Florida’s Solar Energy Management, it’s under $2 today.
Other companies have also hit upon innovative ways to build solar into their business models. Shea Homes has created Trilogy, what it calls the largest residential solar development in the Sunshine State. Trilogy is a gated community for 55-year-olds and up with resort-style amenities and everything a retiree or soon-to-be could want. Its 1,500 solar-powered homes are also net-zero, meaning they produce as much energy as they consume.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, homes in the community pay a nominal fee to remain connected to the grid, but after taxes most homeowners pay no more for electricity than $10.50 a month.
That’s without starving themselves of energy either. One resident, Herman Martinez, told the Times that he can run as much air conditioning as he wants and even string up Christmas lights. He hasn’t paid more than $11 for his electricity in the two years he’s lived in his 2,150 square foot home. He paid as much as $350 a month for electricity living in a smaller home than he is now.
This net-zero oasis emerged through the collaboration of She Homes and SolarCity, a leading solar firm. Solar panels are built into Trilogy homes with the cost of installation added to the homebuyer’s mortgage. Purchase agreements lease the SolarCity panels to homeowners for 25 years and include free equipment maintenance. According to Trilogy sales manager Katie Everett, this system saves homeowners “$2,000 to $5,000 a year” in electric costs.
SolarCity and Shea are currently building a second solar community in Ocala.