City has plan to make solar feed-in more available to homeowners

Published: Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 9:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 9:42 p.m.

Fifteen months after Gainesville's renowned solar feed-in tariff program began, the city's utility unveiled a plan on Thursday to make it more accessible to homeowners.

While the program -- which essentially turns buildings into mini power plants by putting their solar-generated power back onto the grid and paying the property owners for it -- has been a "resounding success," it hasn't been flawless, said Ed Regan, the assistant general manager for strategic planning at Gainesville Regional Utilities.

When it started in early 2009, space in the queue for projects was snatched up quickly, mostly by businesses that wanted to install relatively large arrays.

That shut out a number of residents who wanted a piece of the pie.

"The ship went too fast, and they didn't have a chance to get on board," Regan said.

Now, GRU plans to slow down the process and will set aside a chunk of space every year strictly for residential use.

Currently, nine of the roughly 45 projects under the program are residences but produce only a fraction of the power the commercial projects do, according to GRU data.

Rachel Meek, the utility's solar program coordinator, said a number of the initial applicants jumped the gun and were taking up space that could have gone to prospective customers with legitimate plans.

"They didn't necessarily have any financing," Meek said. "They didn't really have a game plan."

To police that, the utility will now force applicants to have some "skin in the game" with a processing fee and a deposit.

Another big change -- which still needs City Commission approval -- to the feed-in tariff would be the lower rates paid out to newcomers.

While contractors at the commission's meeting Thursday spoke highly of the program overall, they were wary about the declining rate.

Allen Stine applauded the city's work on energy issues. When he travels, he said, people ask him about the "Gators first and energy efficiency second."

But, he said, the new rates -- for larger projects, they would pay $0.24 per kilowatt hour compared with the current $0.26 -- are too low.

"In the real world," Stine said, "we're struggling as developers."

Meek said that reduction was part of GRU's plan all along as the price of producing solar energy dipped, as it has "dramatically" in the last two years.

Allan Penksa, chief executive officer of the Gainesville Regional Airport, which was one of the entities shut out of the queue, told the commission the airport plans to jump into the fray with a roughly 200-kilowatt project on the terminal.

"We are overjoyed that we're now able to get in," Penksa said. "We will be first in line."

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top