City Commission will not add to feed-in tariff in 2014
Published: Thursday, December 19, 2013 at 7:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 19, 2013 at 7:21 p.m.
The City Commission is suspending its solar feed-in tariff in 2014.
On Thursday, commissioners voted 5-2 not to add any additional installations or capacity next year, while saying the decision did not mean a permanent end to the program, which pays a premium for solar generated electricity.
In making the motion to add no solar capacity next year, Commissioner Todd Chase spoke of Gainesville Regional Utilities' high electric rates, its excess generating capacity and the fact that the utility says the city already met the commission's carbon emission reduction goals at the end of 2012.
"We do not need this power," Chase said. "Our customers don't need it. We don't need it on the grid."
Commissioners Thomas Hawkins and Lauren Poe cast the dissenting votes.
Poe wanted to stay the course one more year and add four more megawatts of solar and then sunset the program. He said the city needed to continue to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels to address the negative environmental and economic impacts of climate change.
Thursday's decision applied not just to new solar installations that may have been selected for 2014 via lottery but also to not-yet-built projects that already had capacity reserved for them in 2014.
Shayla McNeill, the city's utilities' attorney, said the city had entered no legal contracts requiring that it honor those prior approvals for solar projects in 2014. There were 2.65 megawatts of those projects awaiting construction in 2014. All of them belonged to Sybac Solar, a German-based company that also has offices in Orlando. Sybac has built the largest arrays in the feed-in tariff program, selling off some of those projects after construction.
Gainesville was the first city in the country to start a feed-in tariff. Since the program started in 2009, more than 15 megawatts of solar have been installed through it and the city has gained national and international attention for its effort to spur renewable energy.
But the cost for electricity has been high. From 2009 through 2013, the city has paid an average price of $287 per megawatt-hour produced, according to GRU staff. By comparison, the price paid for electricity from the biomass plant, a significant point of contention in recent years, is a little less than $134 per megawatt-hour.
GRU staff says the costs paid out to date through the program total some $11.4 million. Taking into account that the owner of each array receives a payment for 20 years, the estimated long-term costs for existing commitments is in the range of $74 million to $84 million.
Currently, the feed-in tariff's impact on rates is a little less than $3 a month for a residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours.
At Thursday's meeting, representatives of the firm Solar Impact noted that the program had generated revenues for the school and library districts, which have both leased roof space for arrays. Solar Impact President Barry Jacobson said the program has been an economic boost for solar installation companies. He questioned if his firm might face layoffs or closing if it goes away.
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