Dr. Lawrence S. Lessin, MD, MACP
December 10, 2019
To help protect the planet, reduce the carbon footprint, exploit renewable energy and reduce costs to consumers, businesses and city facilities, several communities in the USA have transitioned to renewable solar energy as their primary source of electrical power. A number of larger cities have become “Solar Cities USA” by substantial migration to solar photovoltaic energy sources with federal support.
For seven months of the year, we live in a retirement community of 8000 in Maryland where an increasing number of homes are “going solar.” In an area with a much lower number of annual sunny days and lower winter but similar summer temperatures compared to Fernandina Beach, our solar system generates more solar power for our 3100 sq ft home, than we consume. We virtually have no electric bills except for an $8 monthly connection fee to our local power company.
What has made this possible for us is the “Power Purchase Agreement” option (PPA) available in our state. This enables permitting and installation of the rooftop system, owned and maintained by the solar provider (in our case Tesla) at no cost to us. Excess power generated goes to Tesla who can sell it to the “grid” or back to us when we need it, for a rate lower than that of our local provider. We also have the option to purchase a small garage “Power Wall” battery storage unit which can be used during power outages for up to one week. An estimate last year for a similar solar system on our 2200 sq ft Fernandina Beach house was over $30,000 plus financing costs.
The main barrier to PPAs in Florida has been the objections of the power companies and the strong power lobby in Tallahassee. This has prevented changes in laws which currently restrict provision of electric power solely to major energy companies, as opposed to consumers, businesses and local governments, the “end users.” It is ironic that in the “Sunshine State” PPAs are not available, and the only current option for the homeowner is the purchase or lease of a costly system, which the buyer owns and must maintain. It is reported that several exceptions have occurred in south Florida.
We advocate developing a partnership with a major national solar provider or a leading local one, with the resources to negotiate with state authorities and power companies to change the laws or allow Amelia Island or Fernandina Beach an exception to PPAs so that every home, business and city facility would have the option to install a solar electric system without cost to the homeowner. I would urge our city manager and city or county commissioners to explore with a national or major local solar company and our elected state and county representatives to initiate action with the state legislature or power authority to achieve the goal of an “all solar Amelia Island” within the next 5 years.
Figure 1. Our home in suburban Maryland with 32 rooftop solar panels, facing southwest. Our neighbor has a similar system and in 2018 had no electric bills and received a $400 rebate check.
Figure 3. Monthly electric power production (yellow) vs. usage (blue). System startup was in mid-February. Excess energy produces is sold by Tesla to the grid. In 9 of 10 months production exceeded usage, even in July when average temperature was in 90s and AC was set at 78F.
Figure 4. First three days of Thanksgiving week 2019. Weather was partly cloudy and rain, temperatures 40s and 30s.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Lawrence S. Lessin is a retired physician and proponent of the use of solar power. Before his retirement, he served as medical director of The Washington Cancer Institute at Washington Hospital Center, and former Professor of Medicine and Pathology at George Washington University Medical Center. Lessin has developed a national reputation as a medical educator, cancer program administrator and provider of high quality cancer care. He was recognized as one of the Best Doctors in the United States of America (Good Housekeeping Magazine), Best Medical Specialists in the United States (Town and Country Magazine), and named to the list of Washingtonian Top Doctors.