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RP Siegel headshot

Florida Tea Party Group Clamoring for More Rooftop Solar

Words by RP Siegel

Our journey toward a sustainable future has been and will undoubtedly continue to be an uneven ride, marked by setbacks one day and breakthroughs the next. You can't take much for granted on this landscape, either. It used to be that conservatives could be counted on to take the side of the established fossil fuel industries.

Look at North Carolina, for example. Down there you have utility giant Duke Energy trying to pass a bill that would allow fees to be charged to utility customers who generate their own electricity using rooftop solar and sell it back to the utility through net metering. Appalachian Power in Virginia has asked for similar fees. Public Service Co. of New Mexico has a similar proposal in the works. Most experts agree that these actions would have a discouraging effect on people who were considering the possibility of adding solar to their homes.

You might have thought it was safe to take that trend for granted as something that red states were doing. But a Tea Party group in Florida called Conservatives for Energy Freedom has taken the opposite tack, asking for a measure that would “encourage and promote local small-scale, solar-generated electricity production and to enhance the availability of solar power to customers.”

While the current law only allows individuals to buy solar-generated electricity from utilities, this proposed new law would allow individuals to buy from other individuals. This is important in arrangements where a group of people could go in together on a solar installation, or in many cases where a person’s solar array is producing more power than they need at any given time. The ability to sell that excess power can make a significant difference to the financial attractiveness of the investment. This measure would allow businesses and individuals to produce up to 2 megawatts of solar power and sell it to others.

The group, headed by activist Tory Perfetti, will begin collecting signatures for a ballot measure this week. Close to 700,000 signatures are required to get on the ballot. Once on the ballot, the initiative must get 60 percent of the votes to pass. Debbie Dooley, the founder of the conservative group, says she’s not surprised at the high level of support the idea has been receiving.

“Free market and the freedom to choose — those are core conservative principles,” she told ThinkProgress. “Unless you cherry-pick your principles, if you’re a true conservative, this is something that resonates with you. I think the residents are fed up with the government telling them who to purchase their power from.”

As reasons to pursue sustainable practices like rooftop solar continue to pile up, it’s inevitable that some of these motives will appeal more to conservatives, while others appeal to liberals. The bottom line comes down to one thing: broad appeal.

A poll taken last year by a market research firm found that 77 percent of Floridians support net metering, and 71 percent oppose the imposition of a new fee, similar to the ones other red states have implemented. These results were remarkably consistent across political lines.

Florida’s climate is well-suited for solar power, though the state’s political climate has generally not been until now. The state has no renewable portfolio standard, though solar installations became exempt from personal property taxes in 2013.

This story tells us the path forward depends on finding common ground with those who might hold different political philosophies, but who have their own reasons for supporting actions that will lead toward a flourishing future for all.

That common ground appears to have already been found in North Carolina, which has recently undergone a solar boom.

At root, I think the primary economic difference between conservatives and liberals comes down to the interaction between business and government. Conservatives tend to oppose regulation, while liberals are concerned about the unchecked excess of businesses. As businesses, and perhaps more importantly their customers, become increasingly aware of the issues that challenge us as a society going forward, the need for regulation will become reduced. That’s because businesses will always need to be responsive to the concerns of those they depend on to buy their products.

Image credit: Solar Energy World LLC: Flickr Creative Commons

RP Siegel, PE, is an author, inventor and consultant. He has written for numerous publications ranging from Huffington Post to Mechanical Engineering. He and Roger Saillant co-wrote the successful eco-thriller Vapor Trails. RP, who is a regular contributor to Triple Pundit and Justmeans, sees it as his mission to help articulate and clarify the problems and challenges confronting our planet at this time, as well as the steadily emerging list of proposed solutions. His uniquely combined engineering and humanities background help to bring both global perspective and analytical detail to bear on the questions at hand.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.

RP Siegel headshotRP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com


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