As tough economic times hit the renewable energy industry, unsold solar panels are collecting dust in warehouses in many parts of the country. But in Gainesville, Florida, homes, buildings and schools are glittering with brand new panels, installed after the city passed a feed-in tariff law, requiring the power company to buy renewable energy from local producers. Since the law passed in February, Gainesville solar contractors have more work than they can handle. Paradigm Properties, a local real estate company, is installing solar panels on its main building and 50 apartment buildings in Gainesville. Another investor is installing $16 to $20 million worth of 25-kilowatt systems on 80 rented roof spaces around the city. He believes they’ll yield $1.4 million in annual earnings.
Solar panels are gaining popularity in Gainesville, Florida. Photo By Powerhouse Museum/Courtesy Flickr
Gainesville is the first U.S. city to institute a feed-in tariff, which encourages entrepreneurial investment in clean energy by guaranteeing a market. Germany implemented feed-in tariffs in 1991, and they’ve been incentive enough for German companies to dominate the green energy market. Several countries have followed suit.
Feed-in tarrifs are an elegant solution to many issues, and Rep. Jay Inslee of Washington wants to see it work for the rest of the country—not just Gainesville. He’s introduced a bill for a federal feed-in tariff just as they’re beginning to slip into the national conversation. Toby Couture of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory told Washington Monthly that six to eight months ago many of his colleagues had never heard of the tariffs. Now, he says, 'Everyone on my team is asking, 'Why aren't we doing this?''