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A St. Pete Planet Fitness goes solar, hopes to drop energy bill to $0

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist discusses solar energy with residents at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Planet Fitness’ solar array.

ST. PETERSBURG — Following six months of planning and construction, the Planet Fitness at 5335 66th St. N formally activated a rooftop solar array that will eliminate the building's net energy output, drawing praise from U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Mayor Rick Kriseman at a ceremony the morning of July 7.

Though Crist lauded Planet Fitness' renovation, he said Pinellas County, and Florida overall, still lags in solar energy production, a statement he has made often, dating to his tenure as governor.

"We are the Sunshine City in the Sunshine State," said Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat. "And so, for us not to be owning solar is kind of shocking."

Kriseman, echoing that message, blamed state lawmakers for the slow move toward solar.

"It's really because we have a Legislature, some of whom don't even believe in the science of climate change, which is a challenge," Kriseman said. "There's too many of them that have been feeding from the big utility companies for too long."

Florida has plenty of larger solar arrays and plenty of newly-built structures that tout themselves as "net-zero," meaning they produce at least as much total energy as they use. But St. Petersburg-based Solar Energy Management, which oversaw the Planet Fitness solar installation, said the 20,000-square-foot building is the largest to be retrofitted to net-zero energy.

Owner Doug Kuiken said the new system will effectively reduce the gym's monthly energy bill — which ran at upward of $4,000 — to zero, not including taxes.

The building's 179-kilowatt solar array is made up of 536 panels, and it will give Planet Fitness a return on its investment in less than six years, according to Scott McIntyre, chief executive of Solar Energy Management. He declined to provide details on the project's total cost.

Part of Planet Fitness's motivation for installing the solar panels, McIntyre said, was to secure the solar tax credit that allows for a 30 percent tax deduction on solar installation costs. The credit begins to decrease after 2019.

Crist, a first-term congressman after winning Florida's 13th District in November, said tax incentives are one of the most effective ways to spur solar growth in Pinellas. Returning to St. Petersburg for the Fourth of July recess, he said the July 7 ceremony was a good way to spread the word that businesses can make the move to net zero.

"I just think it's the right thing to do," he said. "And so, I found out about this, and I'm like, yeah, of course we'll be there. It's a no-brainer."

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