Beginning March 1, those in Gainesville with new
solar photovoltaic systems will be eligible to receive
32 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity produced
by the system over the next 20 years.
After a "historic day" filled with accolades and
anticipation, city commissioners on Thursday approved
the nation's first solar feed-in tariff ordinance,
which will replace Gainesville Regional Utilities'
current rebate program.
The many proponents of the renewable energy incentive
- from local residents hoping to install systems
to international photovoltaic manufacturers - are
projecting the policy will stimulate millions of
dollars in private investment in solar energy.
What could attract that level of investment, according
to Don Davis, Gainesville president of Capital City
Bank, is a 5 percent return on investment after
taxes in a 20-year fixed contract.
Ed Regan, assistant general manager of strategic
planning for GRU, said people are "lining up" to
be the first recipients of the 20-year contract.
The ordinance sets a maximum of 4 megawatts of
solar panel installation a year that would take
part in the feed-in tariff. However, Regan said
4 megawatts would be a huge boon considering the
state of Florida only has two megawatts currently
Regan said he would be pleased with one or two
megawatts a year installation.
Additionally, the ordinance includes a reduction
in the amount paid per kilowatt hour to those whose
install solar equipment beginning in the third year,
which takes into account that by then technology
should be less costly.
Murray Cameron, vice president of the European
Photovoltaic Industry Association, was one of eight
delegates who visited Washington, D.C., Tallahassee
and Gainesville this week to learn about the potential
for launching North American branches of their corporations.
"This is a little bit of a feeling of déjà vu
for us," Cameron said. "Because in Germany it was
not the federal level that introduced feed-in tariffs,
it was local."
Cameron and the other delegates, who attended a
workshop Thursday in GRU's multi-purpose room, outlined
the growth of solar installation after Germany introduced
a feed-in tariff in 2003.
"There are more jobs in solar electricity today
than in coal ... than in nuclear," Cameron said.
The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce presented
the area's strengths to the companies that were
looking for investment opportunities.
Cameron said that there would have to be evidence
of substantial demand in the state and nation before
these companies entered the market locally, somewhere
in the order of 40 megawatts of installation a year.
Eric Wachsman from the Florida Institute for Sustainable
Energy presented how the University of Florida could
be a valuable resource for a budding solar industry
Aside from a large department of material sciences,
which studies photovoltaic technology, Wachsman
pointed to a $40 million grant that created an institute
for renewable energy, much of which will go to UF.
"This promotes the type of resources you need
that attracts investors with a trained work force,"
Wachsman said he has watched many talented doctorate
students leave Gainesville to take jobs with renewable
energy companies, but since GRU proposed Gainesville's
feed-in tariff policy, at least one has expressed
interest in returning.