Sunday, September 23, 2018
News Roundup

Residents boost solar energy options by forming co-ops

Since moving to Florida in 2015, Brenda Probasco has been preparing for retirement strategically.

She bought a three-bedroom fixer upper in Gulfport. Eliminated gasoline bills by buying a used electric Chevrolet Bolt. Stocked the house with energy efficient appliances.

When it came time to replace her dilapidated roof, Probasco, 56, wanted solar panels but needed help finding an installer.

She joined the St. Pete Solar Co-op in 2016, a then-fledgling effort led by The League of Women Voters Florida with FL SUN. The idea is for residents to band together and hire a single company to install systems on all of their homes, resulting in a 20 percent bulk discount and moral support to navigate a complicated process.

With the 30 percent federal tax credit and co-op discount, Probasco used her savings to get 15 panels installed for $6,800 on the roof of her 1,264-square foot home.

Her electric bill in August? $5.49.

"I've always been an environmentally conscious person, and I know climate change is real," said Probasco, a former real estate broker now working as a waitress. "I think we're getting to a point in Florida where when you do a checklist of things you need to have in your house like a refrigerator, solar panels are just going to be a part of that."

As interest in solar energy grows in the state, more resident-driven co-ops are sprouting. FL SUN will launch co-ops in North Pinellas and Hillsborough counties Sept. 25, joining the dozen running across the state and others in formation.

With the cost of building solar installations dropping 65 percent over the past five years and more cities looking toward clean energy, North Pinellas FL SUN Coordinator Dave Sillman said now is the time for both residential and commercial solar energy to boom.

"We're trying to push it along to that tipping point, that's a key to the co-ops," Sillman said.

Florida currently ranks 13th nationally for solar capability even though the Solar Energy Industries Association estimates the Sunshine State as having the third-highest potential for solar energy in the country.

But the pace is picking up. The number of customer-owned solar energy systems increased nearly 40 percent in 2016, reaching 15,965 compared to 11,600 in 2015, according to the Florida Public Service Commission. That's still only a fraction of the state's 7.9 million utility customers — but it's progress, Sillman said.

"Not only is solar much more affordable now, if you can do it, it is the best investment you can make," Sillman said. "Solar systems in average pay for themselves in about eight and a half years and warranty for 25 years and should last 35 to 40 years, so they pay back two to three times what you invest in them," Sillman said.

About 240 people joined the St. Pete solar co-op last year, and about 50 of those homeowners installed solar, according to St. Petersburg area League of Women Voters president Julie Kessel.

Because there's no cost or join and no obligation to go through with installation, many of those residents participate in the co-op just to get information and learn about the industry, Kessel said.

At co-op meetings, residents learn about the cost savings of solar, the environmental benefits and the logistics of installation. The co-op groups issue a competitive bid to installers and hire one together as a group.

But another barrier to getting more panels on roofs is price.

Although installation and capital costs are falling, a solar energy system can still push $10,000 depending on the size of the roof, out of reach for most families.

Kessel said the league is working to bring alternative financing options to the area, like green banks to offer low and middle income families with good credit financing to buy panels.

"The demand is there," Kessel said. "We know people call us all the time asking 'do you have the co-op up and 'when is the co-op coming back?' We are on the front lines for sea level rise in St. Pete and the surrounding beach communities. ... There are very practical reasons to adopt solar."

Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

 
Comments
Snell wins No. 21 as Rays beat Blue Jays 5-2

Snell wins No. 21 as Rays beat Blue Jays 5-2

TORONTO — Blake Snell doesn't look like he can be stopped.He pitched again for the Rays in Sunday's 5-2 victory over the Blue Jays, he dominated again and he won again.That's both a major-league-leading and team-record-breaking 21st victory for...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lightning journal: Roster trimmed to 28

Lightning journal: Roster trimmed to 28

TAMPA – After Sunday morning, the Lightning sat five cuts away from having a 23-man roster to start the regular season.It cut its training camp roster by 27, leaving 28 players on the roster with the start of the regular season less than two we...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tiger Woods ends five-year win drought with Tour Championship title

Tiger Woods ends five-year win drought with Tour Championship title

Times wiresATLANTA — Tiger Woods, in his Sunday red shirt, both arms raised in victory on the 18th green.For so many years, the scene was familiar.This time, it was surreal."I can't believe I pulled this off," Woods said Sunday during the troph...
Updated: 2 hours ago
$ki Mask the Slump God comes to Tampa

$ki Mask the Slump God comes to Tampa

$ki Mask the Slump God performs at the Ritz Ybor Saturday, September 22, 2018. KASAMBA KOKAYI | For the Times$ki Mask the Slump God is a musical hip-hop artist who has gained a lot of momentum over the past year. From making this year’s XXL cov...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Police in St. Petersburg searching for missing elderly man

Police in St. Petersburg searching for missing elderly man

Police in St. Petersburg are searching for a missing elderly man.Shortly after 5 p.m., Frederick Mein, 86, drove his silver Toyota Tacoma pickup truck from his home on the 1500 block of 78th Avenue N to his daughter’s house a couple of miles away. He...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rays journal: Teammates come through for Blake Snell

Rays journal: Teammates come through for Blake Snell

TORONTO — LHP Blake Snell knows he is the one getting all the attention for the remarkable season he has compiled, but he wants to make sure his teammates get some of the credit."It's cool that it's under my name,'' Snell said, "but it's all of...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Whitman: Rainbow yarmulke signals arrival of new rabbi at Brandon's Beth Shalom

Whitman: Rainbow yarmulke signals arrival of new rabbi at Brandon's Beth Shalom

Rabbi Bryan Mann wears a rainbow yarmulke to offer a message.Mann, the new Rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Brandon, wants all people to know they are welcome and accepted.As a Jewish youth growing up in New Hampshire, Mann chose not to come out ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
At memorial service, attorney Barry Cohen remembered as someone who cherished his friends and the law

At memorial service, attorney Barry Cohen remembered as someone who cherished his friends and the law

Barry Cohen made a lot of friends throughout his long career as one of Tampa’s top criminal defense attorneys.But Cohen also made enemies, his fellow attorney Steve Yerrid told the Tampa Bay Times.Cohen would have welcomed them all to his memorial se...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Heart device seen as ‘huge advance’

Almost 2 million Americans have severe heart failure, and for them even mundane tasks can be extraordinarily difficult.Drugs may help to control the symptoms, but the disease takes a relentless course, and most people with severe heart failure do not...
Updated: 5 hours ago

As world watches, Trump to make rounds at U.N.

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Donald Trump is poised to redouble his commitment to "America First" on the most global of stages this week. In the sequel to his stormy U.N. debut, Trump will stress his dedication to the primacy of U.S. interests while...
Updated: 5 hours ago