It sounds like a bright idea: harness the power of Florida’s ample sunshine to save money and help protect the environment.

Experts say Key Biscayne is the perfect place to do it. “There’s so much untapped solar potential on the Key,” said Jody Finver, FL SUN Solar Co-op Miami-Dade Coordinator. “Hundreds upon hundreds of sun-drenched single-family residences could produce their own electricity during the day rather than paying a utility company to deliver it to them.

“By producing surplus energy during the day – that’s energy above and beyond what the home uses – solar homeowners are creating energy for their neighbors. It’s hyper-local; it seems quite fitting for such a tight-knit community.”

Finver recently made a presentation at Village Hall, hosted by the Key Biscayne Community Foundation’s Citizen Scientist Project, to explain how residents – and business owners – can join a FL Sun solar co-op.

Co-ops are made up of property owners in specific geographic areas who are interested in going solar. “By getting a community together and selecting one installer, co-op members can save up to 20 percent off the cost of their individual installation,” Finver explained.

Key Biscayne falls under FL SUN’s Central Miami North co-op.

During the information session, Finver talked about how the co-op works, the basics of solar technology, and the economics of solar, including how to finance a system.

She said can property owners join a co-op by registering at www.flsun.org/central-miami-north; there is no cost or obligation.  

To qualify, a home should have a sunny roof preferably under 10 years old (the 10-year time frame is the recommendation; older roofs can be reviewed) and unshaded by trees or other objects. Ideally the roof should face south, but anything from southwest to southeast can work.  

Residents in condominiums also have opportunities – Finver said FL Sun’s website details some of the options at www.flsun.org/front-page/who-we-are/solar-for-condos/ - and businesses can qualify if they are the only occupant of their building and there are no renters.

Once they’re signed up, property owners have access to FL SUN’s assistance with learning the benefits of rooftop solar, organizing the co-op and working with other co-op members to get bids from installers to do numerous projects within the co-op area.

“We act as a neutral third-party consumer advocate working with both the group members and the installer the group selects to ensure the process goes smoothly,” Finver explained.

Co-op members get a bulk discount rate, saving up to 20 percent on their installations combined with a 30 percent federal tax credit that is available for going solar. “It’s a game changer for so many people that thought going solar was beyond their means,” Finver noted.

And once a property has solar power, Finver said, the savings continue.

“Going solar is a long-term investment that allows a homeowner to lock into electricity rates and offset up to 100 percent of their electric bill,” she said, noting Florida is currently facing an $811 million rate increase. “Solar acts as a buffer against this and future increases. Going solar means homeowners can experience energy independence and take charge of their energy – no pun intended – by producing their own clean form of electricity.”

As a bonus, Finver said, rooftop solar structures don’t just help by producing power, they lower bills by providing a barrier between the sun and the roof. “We went solar back in 2015, and as soon as the panels were installed, the temperature inside the house dropped,” Finver said. “That means we don’t have to run our AC as hard, and that’s more money in our pocket.”

She added solar power can even help in other aspects of one’s life – for example, Finver said, Dr. Jim Fenton from the University of Central Florida’s Florida Solar Energy Center did a study that showed the electric vehicles that are popular in Key Biscayne can be charged using rooftop solar panels for just a penny a mile.

Finver said FL SUN can provide support and resources to homeowners throughout the entire process of going solar: “Whether someone chooses to go solar through a co-op or on their own, we try to help them make educated decisions.”

FL SUN is a nonprofit created out of a partnership between the Community Power Network and the League of Women Voters.  They’ve launched 13 co-ops in Florida since 2015, and have helped hundreds of homeowners.

“We educate Floridians about the benefits of distributed solar energy, organize co-ops to help expand access to solar and we work to strengthen Florida’s solar policies while building a community of solar supporters,” Finver said. “The local League of Women Voters chapters lay the groundwork for the co-ops – organizing volunteers, finding locations to conduct information sessions, helping organize our press conference. They are a powerhouse.”

Finver said the organizations were thrilled to have a chance to present in Key Biscayne, a place they see as perfect for a solar revolution.

And it seems to be catching on. Finver said after her presentation, “There was a lot of interest. By the time I got home six homes had signed up, and I was answering questions all day.”

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