Solar Co-op Proposal Draws Crowd In Polk

The idea that neighbors could band together to install solar panels on their homes and businesses more cheaply than going it alone attracted a crowd Wednesday at Lakeland’s United Methodist Temple during a program sponsored by the Polk County League of Women Voters.

These cooperatives have already been organized in several other Florida counties and are a growing effort that promises to bring Florida into its rightful place in the effort to expand home solar power installations, said Deidre Macnab, who is a volunteer coordinator for LWV’s Florida United Solar Neighbors organization.

She said Florida is a logical place for this effort because of the availability of solar power as a result of its sunny weather year-round and the fact that many residents pay high utility bills to operate air-conditioning systems during hot summers.

Deidre Macnab explains the LWV solar campaign to residents Wednesday

In addition to helping residents to lower their energy bills substantially—the return on investment can be recouped in a little as four years—increased home solar power reduces the impact on climate change and reduces the need to build additional expensive power plants, she said.

In addition to pushing to interest homeowners and business owners in installing solar panels, the effort also involves getting the support of local officials for changing utility rates or approving ordinances that’s would facility solar installation, said Rick Garrity, a longtime Lakeland resident who formerly headed the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission.

One would be to lobby Lakeland commissioners to revise its rate structure in a way that doesn’t include a surcharge that reduces the payback rate for solar conversions.

The other would be to persuade the County Commission to approve an ordinance that would allow property owners to finance solar installation through a lien on their property that would be paid over time on their tax bills.

Macnab said her group is also pushing for lower-cost and faster permitting for solar installations.

“I know we can do it,” Garrity said.

Wednesday’s discussion also broached the idea of installing solar panels on new schools to cut operating costs and use the money that would have been required for power bills to fund educational programs.