Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170;

Mar 2012 Prez Sez

It's a sign of the times.  The end of subsidies means the end of interest in solar power.    An email from Ken brought this home.  He had been trying to get Jesse Roche, author of the blog "Million Solar Rooftops" to be one of our speakers next season. Apparently, Jesse has abandoned the project because of dwindling interest in rooftop solar in Florida.  The primary cause apparently is the end of the state subsidies for solar installations.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a new storefront in town with the name Green Energy on the sign.  After reading Jesse's email and thinking about it a bit, I decided to go to the business and see what was going on from a local merchant perspective.  

I met Stan who told me that they had installed 30 systems in the last two years in Edgewater and NSB including both residential and commercial.  But since the end of the state subsidies, the business dropped like a rock.

This does not bode well for solar, or any renewable energy solution in Florida.  To make matters worse, in January, Florida's Agriculture Commissioner,Adam Putnam, effectively dismantled the Renewable Portfolio Standard set in place by Governor Crist to have 20% of Florida's energy needs met by renewable energy sources by 2020.  Now what business would the Ag guy have in meddling in energy production?  Because Governor Scott thought so little of the Florida Energy and Climate Commission that he relegated it to the Office of Energy and put it in the Agriculture Commission.  Governor Scott's feelings about climate change are well known.  He does not believe in it.

As I thought more about this subject, I wondered how we could get more solar installations even without the subsidies but whie minimizing the environmental costs.   In June 2011, one of the environmental activism emails to which I subscribe said something to the effect that  “Desert Tortoises do not need Solar.”  It was in response to a proposal to site an 850 megawatt solar plant in the Mojave Desert of California.  My first thought was that, if I were to site a significant capacity solar plant, the desert would probably be a top choice.  Lots of open land and lots of sun.  But then there was the Desert Tortoise and the Fringe-toed Lizard. 

Even though the desert may look lifeless to most people, you probably can’t cover more than a few acres without running into a listed species.  So where do we put a solar installation with significant capacity?  Senator Feinstein of CA and some conservation groups say they should be located in areas, private or public, that are already disturbed.   That’s a great theory but where are these lands.  The BLM owns large tracts of grasslands in the west but most of them are leased (at a very low income to the taxpayer) for cattle grazing.  How about the humongous cattle ranches out west.  Anyone who has travelled there knows how grass-poor these ranches are.  It takes a lot of acres to feed a single cow.  Either of these solutions would result in using food-producing lands for power.  Sounds like what we did with ethanol.

The only solution I can think of has to involve the billions of square feet of flat rooftops on commercial buildings like shopping centers and malls, big box stores like Wal-mart and Best Buy, and factories and warehouses.  But how do we get them there?

Maybe National Audubon can start a petition drive to get a million signatures on petitions to send to the big box stores and ask that they install solar at least on new construction.  Those solar rooftops would be a nominal part of the cost of their construction and would create a return for the stores in cash as well as goodwill.

Or maybe, Florida Audubon can negotiate solar installations on commercial rooftops as part of their on-going discussions with developers who are in effect building complete cities including residential, shopping and commercial.  I have in mind specifically Restoration and Farmton.

What do you think?  Let me know.

Happy Birding.