More than a year ago, a 16-year-old high school student named Delaney Reynolds wrote to half a dozen mayors in Florida, urging them to require citizens to adopt solar energy. South Miami mayor Philip Stoddard was the first to respond.
On Tuesday, Florida's first measure requiring new homes to install solar panels passed in Stoddard's city, joining a handful of cities including San Francisco and Lancaster, California. The measure, which goes into effect in mid-September, mandates 175 square feet of solar panel per 1000 square feet of sunlit roof area. It was adopted in a 4-1 vote, with South Miami commissioner Josh Liebman dissenting on the grounds that the new law takes away freedom of choice, and could impact the fees utility companies pay the city.
Two years ago, Stoddard also passed a resolution urging the state legislation to allow consumers to buy solar power from sources other than power companies. But despite his success, Florida has had a complicated relationship with solar energy.
In October of last year, Motherboard reported the state was locked in a battle between consumers and power companies when citizens voted on a ballot measure that would have prevented third-party solar panels to compete with power companies. Floridians voted against the amendment by a small margin—especially important since 72 percent of the residential solar panels in the US came from these third-party sources as of 2015. Florida, like California, has the ideal conditions for adopting solar, and is increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. But unlike the West coast, the state has been hesitant to adopt any mandates around renewable energy, partly because of its Republican, small-government edict, and partly because of the political clout of the powerful utilities industry.
Utility companies have been heavy players in the political game in Florida, contributing more than $1 million to Republican Gov. Rick Scott's campaign, according to Rolling Stone. With the influence of these lobbyists, the state government has repeatedly blocked solar subsidies, energy competition, and other sources of renewable energy. Meanwhile the state is only behind Texas and California in its energy consumption—most of which still comes from fossil fuels like natural gas, coal, and ethanol.
As Mayor Stoddard celebrated his victory this week, he also held up his own experience as proof. He told the Miami Herald his own electricity bill is less than $10 a month thanks to solar energy.
"Solar reduces the cost of home ownership, it makes houses sell faster, it returns more to a builder, it makes local jobs, and most importantly, it reduces carbon emissions today to help our children and grandchildren have a better future tomorrow," he said Tuesday night.