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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The United States installed more solar energy than any other source of electricity in the first quarter of this year.

And it’s becoming increasingly popular here in Florida, where there’s no shortage of rays.

“This is the sunshine state,” says Carol Lopez-Bethel, a wine consultant who lives in Coconut Grove.

Lopez-Bethel says, for her, going solar was a no brainer.

Three years after installing solar panels on the roof of her 1950’s era Grove home, the sun powers her refrigerator, her washer/dryer, her air conditioning and more.

“The lights that are on right now,” she says, “are free.  They’re coming from the sun.  And we’re not creating any pollution.  We’re not imposing ourselves (on the environment) in any negative way.”

Lopez-Bethel is a committed environmentalist, who looks for ways to reduce her personal carbon footprint.  But she also likes saving big time on her monthly power bill.

“Prior to solar it would have been between $150-$200 dollars,” she says.

“And now you’re paying $28.72?” asks CBS4’s Rick Folbuam, looking at her bill.

“Yes,” she answers.

With those savings, and the federal tax incentives currently in place, the average $30-thousand dollar solar system will pay for itself in about 7 years.

But to some, the future of solar looks a bit cloudy.  President Trump has slapped tariffs on solar equipment imported from China – driving up costs.

Florida-based solar company Blue Chip Energy recently went under after selling hundreds of customers solar panels that didn’t work, and may be unsafe.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation sent CBS4 a list of solar providers with complaints filed against them since 2015.  Most of the complaints had to do with licensing violations.

Lopez-Bethel says she did her research before choosing a contractor, ultimately calling it a leap of faith.  She went with Miami-based, Goldin Solar.

“I guarantee you you’re going to use energy,” says Goldin Solar’s owner and founder, Daren Goldin.  “The question is are you going to buy it from your local utility?  Or are you going to benefit from the sunshine hitting your rooftop?”

The utility companies, like FPL, see solar as a threat.  Together, they backed a 2016 amendment aimed at limiting rooftop solar expansion.  The measure failed.  Solar advocates cheered.

Goldin encourages his customers to shop around, using the price of dollars per watt as a comparison.

He says homeowners interested in solar should be planning to stay in their house for at least 7-8 years. They should have a large flat roof surface with direct exposure to the sun.

Goldin says, to make sure you’re working with a licensed contractor.  And finally, he says, get references.

Lopez-Bethel can sit in the comfort of her home and monitor her system on line.  Easy to read charts display the production of each panel on her roof.   She says her panels often generate more power than she actually needs.

When that happens, Lopez-Bethel explains, “You are actually returning power to the grid and FPL has to rebate that back to you.”

That’s what’s known as net metering.  FPL deducts the amount of energy you sell back from your monthly bill or credits future bills in the same calendar year.

Net metering applications are available on line.

For information on the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit: https://www.energy.gov/savings/residential-renewable-energy-tax-credit

The Florida Solar Energy Industries Association: https://www.seia.org/state-solar-policy/florida-solar

Goldin Solar: http://goldinsolar.com/

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