Future of Solar Energy in Florida Remains Cloudy

By Derek Jorgensen


       Solar power is on the rise across the United States. Considering Florida is called the Sunshine State, solar energy and Florida ought to be the perfect match. Yet, Florida ranks only 13th among all fifty states for solar installations- with only Texas and California ahead of them in actual solar capacity. So, why is Florida still in the dark when it comes to harnessing solar energy?

       One issue is that Florida currently regulates the energy market. This means that only a public utility company may offer electricity to consumers. Florida law prohibits other utility sources from directly offering renewable and alternative energy to the public. Therefore, if a generator of solar power wanted to get into the state market, they would have to sell to the energy companies first. Although, there have been attempts by state legislators to deregulate the energy market; lobbyists have prevented much of their progress. However, in an attempt to bypass the legislative process, political action committees have been working together to propose an amendment that may appear on the 2016 ballot that would allow third-party solar power sales in Florida.

       If the energy market does become more deregulated, it could create an opportunity for a growing number of companies to sell solar generators directly to homeowners in Florida. But new opportunities bring new problems. In California, companies are offering homeowners solar panels at no upfront costs. But instead of owning the panels, they are signing leases upwards of twenty years. When the lease is signed, the solar companies are also requiring the lessee to file a UCC-1 financing statement. A UCC-1 financing statement is essentially a lien on personal property. This statement puts the world on notice that you, the lessee, do not own the panels. The purpose of the lease is to allow the homeowner to save money on their electric bill while using some of the savings to make the lease payments. It sounds like a win-win situation. And it usually is- until the owner decides to sell the home.

       Complicated buy outs or transfers of solar panel leases have been enough for some would-be homebuyers to balk at the last minute. To take over the lease payments, the buyer will have to qualify on credit; with lease payments that may have another fifteen years left. Some buyers are getting cold feet. Other buyers will outright demand that the seller buy out the remaining lease, which can be more than $20,000, because they simply don’t want the solar panels or because they do not consider the lease to be a good deal.

       For as much potential as Florida has in harnessing solar energy, the future still remains cloudy; beginning with the current regulations in place. In other markets, most solar residential systems are financed through leases. If you have the opportunity to sign a solar lease, understand your long-term obligations. If you are already leasing solar panels and want to put your home on the market, be sure to contact the leasing company to learn about lease transfers and your buyout options.