The City Council of St. Petersburg, Florida has an idea as bright as the sun for harnessing its energy: force residents to install solar panels.
Council members are positively radiating with the notion of requiring all new homes and all major roof renovations on existing homes to include solar arrays. "It creates jobs, it lowers pollution," councilman Kevin Nurse says. "There is no downside."
Unless you consider being forced to spend an extra $10,500 to $14,700 on your home a downside, according to an estimate for a typical home solar installation in the 5,000 to 7,000 kilowatt range by St. Petersburg-based Solar Energy Management. Homes smaller than 1,100 square feet are exempted from the law.
As written, the ordinance would put entire cost of that on the homeowner.
"There is no way they should be telling me I have to do that if I live in St. Pete," said one St. Petersburg man to local CBS affiliate 10 News.
Jennifer Motsinger of the Tampa Bay Builders Association saying that "the mandate on putting in solar panels is only going to cost homeowners of St. Pete a lot more money." Instead of more solar panels on local roofs of, she says, "you're more likely to see homeowners not purchasing new roofs, and not keeping up with the maintenance of their homes."
In a phone interview with Reason, Nurse says he would like to see existing homes exempted from the solar panel mandate, but he still thinks the requirement makes sense for new homes.
"You can create a system that provides local jobs, reduces fossil fuel use and pollution, and reduces the cost of owning a home," Nurse tells Reason. Energy savings from solar generation would be more than enough to cover the increased cost of a mortgage for a newly built home.
Motsinger, however, is skeptical that a top-down solar panel mandate is a win for energy efficiency. Builders, she says, already provide a range of energy-saving options—from better insulation to low energy windows—and what method works best will depend on the individual building.
"Because each individual structure can be built differently," she says, "you can't apply solar panels universally or any other methods of energy efficiency for that matter."
That was pretty much the reaction when South Miami became the first (and so far only) Florida city to require solar panel installation. As far as I can tell, only South Miami and, predictably, San Francisco require that the panels be installed. A number of other cities around the country require new homes to be "solar ready", meaning they include equipment capable of having panels installed.
Eric Montes of the Latin Builders Association wrote in a Miami Herald op-ed critical of the South Miami law, "if anyone who does not want to have solar panels, then they are not welcome to live in South Miami. This, I would argue, runs counter to our individual freedoms."
Homeowners and developers who want solar panels can install them. Those who a cheaper home and a roof uncluttered with the latest crony capitalist contraptions should have that choice.