St. Johns County Solar Homeowners Will Show Off Their Power Savings This Weekend

Oct 2, 2018

A co-operative in St. Johns County is hosting open houses Saturday and Sunday to show off the group’s solar powered homes.

Forty-nine homeowners in St. Johns County installed solar panels at a cost savings of about 30 percent thanks to a co-op put together with the help of Solar United Neighbors, Compassionate St. Augustine and the environmental initiative of the Florida League of Women Voters.

About 200 hundred homeowners originally joined the co-op, allowing them to negotiate lower solar panel cost and installation prices.

Once the bids were received, the winning contractor was selected and the 49 homeowners moved forward with installations.

Warren Clark is one of the co-op's organizers. He estimates his installation of 24 solar panels will pay for itself in about six years thanks in part to also buying a plug-in hybrid 2017 Toyota Prius Prime.

“Charging an electric vehicle that goes 25 miles on its charge, it means that we have in the last month that we’ve owned that vehicle burned less than a gallon of gas. So our car is 90 percent powered by solar,” said Warren.

Without the car Clark estimates it would have taken about a decade to recoup his investment.

EVs can speed up the rate of return because electricity is typically much cheaper than gasoline – even without solar.  According to the EPA, Clark’s Prius gets the equivalent of 133 miles per gallon when running in all-electric mode.

Sales of plugin cars are steadily growing in the U.S. InsideEVs.com estimates more than 230,000 plug-in vehicles have been have been sold so far this year, topping 199,826 for all of 2017.

Clark also points out that adding solar adds to the equity of a home.

Solar United Neighbors Florida Program Director Angela DeMonbreun said her group planned to start a co-op in Jacksonville but then JEA rolled back its net metering reimbursement rate to homeowners.

JEA’s board voted earlier this year to cut the rate the utility pays solar users for excess power from 10 cents a kilowatt hour to 3 cents.

“We hope to continue to push JEA to pull back the new solar policy that they put into place,” said DeMonbreun.

DeMonbreun said the new policy makes the solar investment payback period too long for many to consider.

JEA countered by saying it has introduced an incentive that offers rebates for storage batteries, allowing solar homes to store their own power. But DeMonbreun said that technology isn’t far enough along yet to be cost effective for most.

JEA is offering a rebate of up to $4,000 per home or business on the purchase of a qualifying battery storage system. Utility spokeswoman Gerri Boyce told WJCT News in April that JEA will reevaluate the program after the first 50 rebates are awarded before deciding how to proceed next.

Although the co-op idea was put on hold in Jacksonville, DeMonbreun said one could still be put together if there’s enough interest.

Anyone interested in learning more in forming a cooperative can contact DeMonbreun at angela@solarunitedneighbors.org or visit the nonprofit Solar United Neighbors website.

Those interested in solar can also talk to St. Johns County co-op homeowners at this weekend’s open houses, which will be held at the following times and locations:

  • Saturday, Oct 6,  9:00AM - 1:00PM at 365 Sea Lake Ln. in Ponte Vedra Beach 32092
  • Saturday, Oct. 6,  1:00 - 4:00PM at 137 Twine St. in St. Augustine 32084
  • Sunday, Oct. 7, 9:30 – 1:00PM at 3037 Cypress Creek Dr. E.  Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32082    
  • Sunday, Oct. 7,  10:30AM - 5:00PM at 835 Anastasia Blvd. in St. Augustine 32080

The open houses are part of the National Solar Tour, which claims to be the largest grassroots solar, renewable energy, and sustainable living event in the country.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.