by Tom Rooney
Something’s gotten into those Gators.
First, they won back to back championships in college basketball. Then they added a national football title to the mix, along with a Heisman trophy.
Now the city surrounding the University of Florida is doing something of even greater national import. Something that just might be remembered in 100 years as the place where America began its march to world energy leadership:
The Gainseville city leaders became the first in the country to set a competitive price for people who create renewable energy with their solar panels or wind farms or whatever, and who sell it back to the local utility.
They call it a feed-in tariff, if you must know the technical term. But it is simply the price you receive for generating your own power then selling it back to the utility.
Many solar leaders regard it as the key to the next step in the growth of solar in America — both the use and manufacture.
Which is also the key to creating energy independence and reducing carbon.
Which of course we are not doing enough of.
On a recent trip to China, I visited several large factories where they make solar panels.
I wish everyone who wishes America to be an energy super power could have seen what I saw. These factories are world-class models of efficiency and skill. Their managers, many of whom are trained in the United States are very good and getting better.
Many of the panels they make are going to places where local utilities pay premium prices for solar power generated on rooftops; there is no doubt that wherever solar owners receive higher prices, more solar power exists.
In Germany and Spain and France and Italy, the feed-in tariff is as high as 72 cents per kilowatt hour. In German it is the highest, that is why they have more solar than anyone anywhere.
And most of this they did ten years ago.
In Gainseville, they recently set their price at 32 cents per kilowatt hour. Interest in solar in this college town is exploding far beyond what an economist might expect from the financial incentives alone.
Which tells us that people have important economic and non-economic reasons for using renewable energy.
If only they get the chance.
A competitive feed in tariff is just the beginning. The bigger the local market for solar, the greater the chance for local manufacturers to compete.
And that is what is missing in America so far. Missing from the plans of those who hope for tens of thousands of green jobs; Missing from the folks who crave energy independence. Missing from those who say solar is the cure for carbon.
But not missing in Gainseville — where their 32 cent per kilowatt hour is a message to the rest of the country that this is what people do who are serious about energy independence and carbon reduction.
Compare that with California, the most solar friendly place in America, where solar power owners are lucky to get 1/3 of that.
There’s always a reason why we are not going whole hog on solar. The grid is not ready. The price is too high. We have more and better energy in — fill in the blank — that all we have to do to get it is — fill in the blank.
But the blanks are always years and and years and trilions of dollars away. Meanwhile, Asian suppliers and European competitors are racing ahead.
Today our national leaders correctly say that America can and should be a world power in renewable energy. But business leaders in Asia feel America will not get there.
If we are going to compete — let alone win – for this world energy championship, we are going to have to acting like winners. And we can begin by acting the way they do in the hometown of the national championship Gators.
Tom Rooney is the President and CEO of SPG Solar. He can be reached at http://www.spgsolar.com/