by Barbara Joy Cooley
On our islands, we love to complain about the electric company because of inexplicable or unexpected, but generally brief, power outages. But complain as we do, we are actually fortunate to have the electric company that we do, because we, the consumers, own it: the Lee County Electric Cooperative, or LCEC.
Some people have to buy their electricity from a big corporation, and some have to buy it from their local government. We buy from ourselves, essentially. It is true that LCEC buys almost all of its power from Florida Power and Light (FPL). But there is a tiny percentage generated by solar panels on homes and businesses within the 5-county LCEC service area.
That’s right – five counties. LCEC started in 1940 when a citrus grower in North Fort Myers sold his power plant to the first co-op members in the North Fort Myers area. Since then, the service area has steadily grown to include parts of Lee, Charlotte, Hendry, Collier, and Broward counties.
I was one of several Sanibel leaders who recently met with LCEC representatives at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) to talk about how we can increase the amount of solar power generated in this service area. Currently, FPL has a conservative goal of generating 14 to 15 percent of its power by renewable sources, including solar, by 2028. As small as that goal is, FPL is the largest provider of solar power in the state.
A contract which extends to 2033 requires LCEC to buy its power from FPL, but the contract allows LCEC a credit for up to 2 megawatts of solar power generated by its members. That doesn’t sound like much, but we aren’t close to meeting that 2-megawatt limit yet.
At the meeting, we learned that LCEC is not opposed to going beyond those 2 megawatts, and the co-op representatives seem to be willing to try to negotiate a higher limit when we do approach that 2 megawatt level. In fact, the LCEC representatives seemed almost as enthusiastic about solar power as we, the community leaders, are. The gathering was a successful meeting of the minds; many thanks go to Sanibel citizen Robert Moore for organizing it. Robert is a volunteer serving on the environment committee for COTI (Committee of the Islands).
Sanibel and Captiva now have the opportunity to become a model community in southwest Florida for solar power. Solar United Neighbors (SUN) has a solar co-op open now for southwest Florida residents who are interested in putting solar on their homes, businesses, non-profit institutions, etc. A solar co-op takes advantage of bulk purchasing power to get solar installations of better quality and value.
The cost of solar installations has decreased noticeably in recent years. The cost-benefit analyses for solar are looking better all the time. A couple dozen homes as well as businesses and institutions like Baileys, the Sanibel-Captiva Community Bank, SCCF, and Ding Darling have already installed solar during a solar co-op that occurred in 2016. Prices for solar installations are even lower now.
The City of Sanibel may even consider solar panels for some of its municipal structures. What about your home or business? What about your church or your favorite non-profit institution? Does solar make sense there? Find out by joining the SUN solar co-op. You are not obligated to go through with the installation after you receive an estimate via the SUN co-op. If your roof is relatively new, or if you need to install a new roof soon, now is definitely the time for you to think about solar. And be sure to factor in the long-term costs of fossil fuels when you make this decision about the future. Together, maybe we can dramatically increase the percentage of electrical power that is generated by solar on Sanibel-Captiva.