GRU will re-open the popular solar Feed-In-Tariff program in January 2013. Business owners in Gainesville will have another opportunity to participate in one of the most successful renewable energy programs in the country. Systems under 10kW will receive 21¢ per kilowatt-hour and systems over 10kW will receive either 18¢ per kilowatt-hour or 21¢ per kilowatt-hour depending on size.
At the October 18th Gainesville City Commission meeting, two local solar installers were present as the Commission’s recommendation to approve the lower rates and open one megawatt for the 2013 FIT Program was approved. Barry Jacobson of Solar Impact, the largest local solar installer said, “The 2013 Feed-in Tariff rates are significantly lower than last time; however, Solar Impact will be able to offset this decrease rate with lower pricing in order to make solar an attractive investment for our customers. The Gainesville City Commission and GRU are striking a good balance between promoting renewable energy and protecting the interests of the public.” Kurt Johnsen of Kurt Johnsen Energy Systems, a primarily residential and thermal solar system installer, said, “If the idea is to promote solar, why have so many applicants fighting over spots. If we can get the same amount of solar installed with most likely fewer applicants, its good for everyone”. The solar FIT Program allows space for both residential and commercial customers to apply.
Solar FIT – GRU has been providing rebates for solar water heating since 1997 and solar photovoltaic (PV) systems since 2007. In March 2009, Gainesville implemented the first solar Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) Program in the United States, offering GRU electric customers a chance to invest in PV and sell the electricity directly to the utility under a contract for 20 years at a fixed price. Based on highly successful models in Europe, this program was approved by the Gainesville City Commission with the following objectives in mind:
1) To increase amount of solar in Gainesville at a more rapid pace, which will help the City of Gainesville achieve climate protection goals
2) To drive down the cost of solar in our market
3) To promote local job growth while limiting the financial impact of solar installations on customers
Prior to discussions for the FIT Program in October 2008, GRU had 328 kilowatts of installed solar capacity. As of September 2012, the utility’s total solar capacity was approximately 15.1 megawatts, equaling an increase of more than 4,500% over four years.
The City of Gainesville continues to see the costs to construct solar decline year after year. As projected, GRU’s FIT pricing for certain sized systems has declined, which puts less of a financial impact on GRU’s customers and means that it will be more cost effective than ever for customers to install solar PV.
As an indicator of local job growth, there were only two solar companies in Gainesville up until 2008 and there are now approximately eight locally based solar contractors operating in Gainesville. In addition, the need for roofers and electricians to work on solar systems has also increased.
The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) recognized GRU in June 2011 as one of the country’s leading utilities for integrating solar power into its energy portfolio. According to the SEPA 2010 Utility Solar Rankings report, GRU ranked eighth nationwide among municipal utilities in total megawatts of solar energy added in 2010. GRU also earned two top-10 spots for the amount of solar power added on a per-customer-served basis in 2010, ranking fourth in the nation among municipal utilities and fourth in the Eastern region among all types of utilities.