SolarCity announced Thursday morning that it’s expanding operations into Florida, "something we’ve wanted to announce for a long time,” a company blog post read.
The decision to launch a residential solar business in the state comes after voters shot down an amendment that would have allowed utilities to put policy restrictions on the Florida solar market. Amendment 1 was defeated despite more than $25 million in backing from large energy companies.
“Today’s announcement was made possible when the citizens of Florida rejected the anti-solar Amendment 1, which would have made it easier for utilities to add fees to make solar more expensive for customers,” according to the SolarCity blog. “The Amendment was disguised as a pro-solar policy in what amounted to a cynical attempt by solar opponents to slow down solar development in the state.”
CEO Lyndon Rive said the vote sends a powerful message about the public’s support for solar.
"It reinforces to any policymaker or regulator that when you're making the rules, consider that the voters voted for competition and energy choice," he said, in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel.
SolarCity, now a subsidiary of Tesla Motors, will initially launch operations in the greater Orlando area, serving customers of Duke Energy and the Orlando Utilities Commission. The company plans to expand to additional areas of the state in the coming months.
In other states, SolarCity’s business is predominantly driven by the sale of home solar leases. Florida, however, does not allow homeowners to buy solar through a third-party agreement like a lease or power-purchase agreement. Current Florida law only permits utilities to sell electricity to consumers. A bipartisan group of solar advocates sought to change the law and foster competition through a referendum, but the initiative failed to make the 2016 ballot.
Due to the limitation on third-party ownership, SolarCity has been slow to enter the Florida market. The company’s new business will center on cash and loan purchases -- which are making up an increasing portion of the U.S. residential solar market overall.
Customers in Florida continue to benefit from retail-rate net metering, a key policy incentive for the rooftop solar industry. Solar customers also benefit from property tax exemptions, thanks to an amendment that passed with 74 percent approval in August. Amendment 4 specifically authorizes the Florida legislature to exempt solar projects on commercial and industrial properties from both the tangible personal property tax and the ad valorem real estate taxes.
On Thursday, State Senator Jeff Brandes filed legislation to formally implement Amendment 4. The Republican senator said he believes the bill will serve as a catalyst for the broader adoption of solar in the state.
“The voters of Florida spoke loud and clear that they expect the Sunshine State to make the expansion of solar and renewable energy a priority,” said Brandes in a statement. “I have been committed to diversifying our energy portfolio, and I am excited about the opportunity to bring further investment in solar and renewable energy production.”
With voters demonstrating strong bipartisan support for solar in both recent ballot initiatives, Brandes is hoping for early passage of his bill in the 2017 session.
Check out these related articles:
- Nation's Largest Solar Installer to Open Florida Facility
- Florida Voters Defeat Utility-Backed Solar Amendment
- Florida Voters Pass Solar Tax Exemption in Statewide Primary -- Now Bigger Battles Loom
- Understanding Amendment 4: Tax Exemptions for Solar Devices or Renewable Energy Source Devices
- US Residential Solar Purchases Will Overtake Leasing in 2017