City officials, environmental activists and solar power advocates met in Neptune Beach’s solar-powered City Hall Thursday morning to launch an affordable solar power co-op program.
Jacksonville Beach and Neptune beach are partnering with Solar United Neighbors of Florida to introduce more solar panels to small businesses and residents in the two beachside cities.
“The most important thing is that we get it down into the community that businesses and residents can actually be able to afford this,” Neptune Beach Mayor Elaine Brown said. “And so the co-op is new, and it’s exciting.”
Those interested can go to Solar United Neighbors’ website and fill out the required information.
The company will conduct a free roof review to evaluate if the property has enough sunlight to be a prime candidate for the solar panels.
Solar United also hopes to give people a better understanding of the energy system.
“For example, what is a panel?” said Angela DeMonbreun, the regional director for Solar United Florida. “What is an inverter? How does this work together?”
Once Solar United receives 20 to 30 commitments from interested businesses and residents, it will issue a request for proposal of the co-op.
Then the group will decide on an installer. The installer will create individualized proposals for each commitment.
Solar United serviced a co-op program in St. John’s County in 2017, attracting residents with an average income of $45,000 to $50,000.
A benefit of installing solar panels is the ability to sell excess power back to the utility company.
“We’ve seen return on investments as little as eight years, sometimes lower,” DeMonbreun said.
“It depends on the pricing offered by that installer business. This is a pilot program, so we hope to learn alongside the business owners around here to see what that looks like for them.”
Solar United has programs throughout the state, including Orlando, Miami, Tampa and St. Petersburg.
DeMonbreun said the idea came about when the North Florida Green Chamber of Commerce contacted Solar United with an interest in bringing more solar to the beachfront cities.
“I thought that bringing the business community that type of education to get started was the most important thing,” said NFGCC Executive Director Christina Kelcourse. “Just getting people talking about it.”
If residents or businesses are looking for funds to take the first step toward buying solar panels, Kelcourse said some credit unions offer green loans for large environmentally friendly purchases.
“Last year, there was $32 billion worth of green loans across the country, and Jacksonville didn’t have any green loans,” Kelcourse said. “The Green Chamber went out looking for them and Community First Credit Union stepped up and said they wanted to participate and make it easier to go solar.”
The co-op opportunity will last from July until October.
Solar United is holding three information sessions where people can learn more about the co-op and ask questions.
The first information session is slated for Tuesday, July 16 at the Neptune House, located on 510 Florida Blvd. in Neptune Beach. The session will begin at 5:30 p.m.
Beaches Energy Services is the electric company that serves Jacksonville and Neptune beaches.
The utility also covers parts of Ponte Vedra Beach and Palm Valley.
A similar co-op that resulted in 49 homeowners installing solar, was done in St. Johns County.
The co-op idea has been slower to take off in Jacksonville. JEA has a more restrictive net metering policy than some utilities and has faced a lawsuit for lowering the rate it pays for solar energy generated by its customers.
“I applaud anything JEA is doing, anything Beaches Energy is doing, Florida Power and Light,” Mayor Brown said. “Let’s not concentrate on what [steps] they’re not taking. Let’s make sure that they’re going to be going forward with the community’s demand.”
Representatives for several other organizations were in attendance, including Beaches Go Green, the U.S. Green Building Council Florida, and the Sierra Club Northeast Group.
Atlantic Beach mayor Ellen Glasser was also in attendance.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.