Solar Rebates Gone in a Flash

by Alison Lueders, Great Green Editing

If you blinked on Monday, you missed the $1 million in solar rebates that were claimed by Tampa Electric (TECO) customers in one minute (according to the Tampa Bay Business Journal).

As a TECO customer who did not know the rebates were coming (because they don’t advertise them) and thus did not get one – I am a tad perturbed. Earlier this year, at an EcoFest where TECO was a vendor, I stepped up to the nice TECO employee behind the table and asked simply, “When can I get solar panels on my roof?” The response was nervous laughter. Then, realizing that I was serious, the nice employee smiled and said, “Not yet.” No further information was forthcoming.

It’s a shame that Florida’s nickname is the “Sunshine State” when we lag behind far less sunny places like Massachusetts and New Jersey in terms of our solar installations. In the first quarter of 2012, New Jersey installed 174 megawatts of solar power; Florida installed 2.8 megawatts.

Why the difference? Apparently our esteemed state legislature believes that Florida is too cloudy. All those clouds make solar power an intermittent energy source, and we need sources that meet energy demands 24/7. Really? According to the National Weather Service, Florida is the 6th sunniest state in the nation. Did you know that Germany, a nation not exactly awash in sunshine, gets 4% of its electric power from solar power alone?

So the “it’s too cloudy” explanation deserves further scrutiny. Florida utilities are used to running big fossil-fueled power plants and having a monopoly over energy services. Solar panels on my roof would cut my electric bill, thereby reducing TECO’s revenue. Rather than see solar as an opportunity, and get ahead of this change for their customers, we seem to see foot-dragging – and unadvertised solar rebate programs that sell out in one minute.

I hope the folks at TECO  recognize the strong demand signal that this solar rebate sale represents, and turn it into an opportunity for all of us.