Gainesville Solar Feed-in Tariff a Done Deal

Gainesville Regional Utilities announced that its board of directors, the Gainesville City Commission, gave unanimous approval last week to adopt a solar photovoltaic (PV) feed-in tariff, the first of its kind in the U.S.

Based on highly successful models in Europe, it offers GRU electric customers a chance to invest in solar photovoltaic (PV) systems and sell all the electricity that they produce directly to GRU.

Pending expected Florida Public Service Commission approval, GRU customers can sign up for the feed-in tariff as of March 1. Participants signing up during the first two years of the program will be guaranteed a fixed rate of US $0.32 per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced for 20 years.

GRU estimates that investors will see a five percent return on investment for large-scale projects. The order from the Gainesville City Commission does however set a total installation cap of 4 megawatts (MW) per year. The entire state currently has approximately 2 MW of capacity installed.

REW.com contributer Paul Gipe is a renewable industry analyst and proponent of what he calls Advanced Renewable Tariffs of which a solar PV tariff is just one part. “Gainesville knew what it wanted and set about doing it. They didn’t spend years in endless discussions. Gainesville could well become the model for action elsewhere in the U.S.,” he said.

Gipe doesn’t see the cap as an obstabcle to PV uptake in any way. “As GRU’s Ed Regan explains, the 4 MW is a ‘soft cap’. It’s a reasonable number for a muni’s first foray into a true solar PV feed-in tariff in the U.S. As it is, the 4-MW cap is an order of magnitude greater than the timid limits in Wisconsin. And that’s 4 MW per year. The weak Wisconsin tariffs don’t compare at all,” Gipe said. 

Ed Regan, GRU’s assistant general manager for strategic planning, visited Germany to study European PV models prior to proposing the Gainesville program.

“The feed-in tariff is more attractive to solar investors than traditional solar rebate programs because it guarantees that the utility will buy all of the electricity produced by the PV system at a fixed rate for 20 years. It offers investors a reliable and predictable source of income,” Regan said.

Last week, RenewableEnergyWorld.com reported that a delegation from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) visited Gainesville to support the tariff adoption and to promote the use of solar energy in Florida. EPIA members represent 80 percent of the worldwide PV manufacturing industry.

“Our goal here is to promote the uptake of solar so that the United States, within three years, becomes the largest market of solar on the planet,” said Dr. Murray Cameron, vice president of EPIA. “In the difficult economic times that we are going through now, there are few safer havens for a stable return on investment than solar.”

For more information on the Gainesville feed-in tariff, click the links below.

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