Let There Be Sunlight: South Miami Now ‘Solar City’

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Florida is the Sunshine State and Sunset Drive is the main drag through the city of South Miami, so it might follow that South Miami would be the first town in Florida, and only the fourth in the nation, to require solar energy systems on new homes and major expansion of existing homes.

Commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday night to mandate solar energy systems on new home construction of dwellings over 1100 square feet. Mayor Philip Stoddard championed the historic measure.

“This is not just a good idea, this is an essential idea. We have to reduce our carbon emissions,” Stoddard said.

It’s one town doing its part to save the planet, according to supporters of the new solar requirement.

Commissioner Josh Liebman was the lone vote against the solar power mandate, calling it government overreach.

“I believe we need to protect our residents’ freedom of choice,” said Liebman, who worries expensive solar systems could price the town out of the housing market. “It’s going to raise the price of a home here in South Miami, thus making South Miami less competitive with other municipalities.”

Some folks on the hot July streets saw it the same way.

“I think people should have the option to do it, and be encouraged to do it, but not mandated. What if you can’t afford it,” asked South Miami resident Rudy Kranys.

Holly Zickler, another South Miami homeowner, said residents can’t afford not to have solar power.

“I’m a big believer,” Zickler said. She’s seen an eight percent return on the investment she made on her solar power system, through reduced electric bills.

Mayor Stoddard said his solar system powers his house and his electric car with juice to spare. He gives power back to FPL in exchange for energy credits. Stoddard said he paid $11,000 for a solar system that he expects will pay for itself many times over.

He only pays an electric bill two or three months a year, about $10 a month.

Stoddard said solar power is made even more economically attractive by federal and state tax cuts used as incentives, and by a growing solar “collective,” that allows systems to be purchased in large numbers that dramatically reduce the price.

Dave Halford, leaving the Cafe Cuba restaurant, said he’s all in for solar and other non-fossil fuel energy.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea because it’s saving our resources and helping our earth,” Halford said. “I mean, Miami is sinking,” he said, referring to global warming and sea rise.

South Miami’s leaders say their town and others should go beyond solar on dwellings.

“We’re just beginning, with looking at the houses. We have to take on the businesses and the universities and all the public buildings,” Stoddard said, noting that there are not solar systems on any of the buildings at Florida International University where he is a professor of Biology.

South Miami becomes the only town between the Sunshine State and the Golden State to mandate solar power on structures. The other three towns are in California with San Francisco being the largest among them.

The solar ordinance in South Miami hits the burner in September. If you build a new home, starting September 18, the law demands it; let there be sunlight.

More from Gary Nelson
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