From Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson

Last week, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, representatives from Orange County Government and Solar United Neighbors of Florida came together at the University of Florida (UF)’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Orange County Extension to launch 2 new solar co-ops—one in East Orange County and one in West Orange County. The East Orange County Co-op will run through April 2018, and the West Orange County Co-op will launch in April 2018 (with the opening for registration) and run through June 2018. With the last solar co-op being the largest and most successful in Florida, the County has partnered again with Solar United Neighbors to launch this year’s solar co-ops.

Orange County launched its first solar co-op in the summer of 2016 with 515 participants. Of the participating households, 79 had installed solar through the co-op, accounting for 702.83 kilowatts (kW) of new solar capacity in the County. Additionally, $1.3 million was invested in solar with this co-op with total energy savings over a lifetime of solar array of $3.5 million; Mayor Jacobs and her family were among the 79 households who joined the first solar co-op. “I encourage all residents to explore a co-op,” Mayor Jacobs said. “Not only does the co-op make solar energy more affordable, it makes our community more sustainable—now and for generations to come.” Solar power also supports Mayor Jacobs’ goals in her Sustainability Initiative, “Our Home for Life,” which seeks to reduce barriers to alternative energy and increase renewable energy production by 10% in 2020 and 25% by 2040. For more information on “Our Home for Life,” residents can go to http://www.orangecountyfl.net/OpenGovernment/Sustainability.aspx. A few other notable statistics from the 2016 solar co-ops include the following: The local investments in solar was $1,328,349; the total money saved by co-op membership vs. contracting for individual installation was $351,415; the total cost of energy saved over a lifetime of the solar system was $3,500,575; total property value increased to $2,108,490; the greenhouse gas reduction over a lifetime of solar use by co-op members was 29,650,641 pounds; and 20 jobs were either created or supported.

For residents who are unfamiliar with solar co-ops and the purpose they serve, a solar co-op is a group of neighbors who join together to use buying power and obtain solar energy systems for their homes at a discounted price. Solar co-ops provide discounts in bulk—between 15 and 33%—for a group of homeowners interested in purchasing solar panels. As part of a solar co-op, each participant signs an individual contract with the group-chosen installer, and all participants benefit from the discount. All homeowners who reside in Orange County, including within city limits, are eligible to participate in their respective co-op. For residents living in unincorporated parts of the County, an electrical permit is required for solar installation; residents can access the permit checklist and fee schedule via the following link: http://www.orangecountyfl.net/Portals/0/resource%20library/permits%20-%20licenses/Solar%20Submittal%20Checklist%206-16-17.pdf.

Joining a co-op does not obligate members to purchase panels, but shows they are interested in learning more about the initiative as well as offer an easier and more cost-efficient way to participate. The exact price of a Photovoltaic (PV) system is dependent on homeowners’ preference in system size and their home’s energy consumption. In addition, residents should note that there is a federal tax credit of 30% towards costs of installation. Homeowners have the option to install the size of the PV system that best works for their budget.

According to Renee Parker, the Environmental Programs Administrator of the Orange County Environmental Protection Division, “Orange County Government partners with Solar United Neighbors of Florida because they have a proven track record of being a local nonprofit that operates in 17 Florida counties and has more than 2,700 solar co-op members.” Solar United Neighbors of Florida, as well as the Orange County League of Women Voters, also offered their input on the solar co-ops. “Since 2015, Florida solar co-ops and Solar United Neighbors of Florida co-ops have helped more than 700 homeowners go solar,” said Angela DeMonbreun, State Director of Solar United Neighbors of Florida. In addition, Co-President of the Orange County League of Women Voters Leesa Bainbridge said that “The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that Florida’s sunshine gives it the potential to be among the top three states in America for solar power. By joining in solar co-ops, Central Floridians can start planning for the sun to help pay their electric bills.”

To help encourage residents to participate in the solar co-ops initiative, the County is streamlining the permitting process for solar installations. This makes it possible for new solar permits to be processed in just a day.

Residents who are interested in learning more and/or registering for an information session may visit www.solarunitedneighbors.org or email Flteam@solarunitedneigjbors.org. The first information session took place this week at Barry University School of Law, and the next session will be held on Wednesday, February 28, 2018, from 6-7:30 PM, at Rollins College in the Bush Auditorium (1000 Holt Ave, Winter Park, FL 32789). In addition, residents can access the County’s webpage for the initiative as well as a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) via the following link: http://www.orangecountyfl.net/?tabid=4403.

In considering taking part in this initiative, Orange County residents should keep the following facts (obtained via the Solar United Neighbors of Florida and Florida Public Service Commission) in mind: Florida is ranked #3 in the nation for solar power availability; Florida ranked 3rd in potential solar production capacity; Florida is ranked 13th in the United States for the amount of power generated from solar (according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory); less than 1% of Floridians use solar panels as their main power source; and 97,444 homes in Florida utilize solar power.

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