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Success of Gainesville’s Solar Feed-In Tariff

In 2008, Gainesville, Florida became the first U.S. city to adopt a renewable energy feed-in tariff (FIT). Since the program’s actual inception in March of 2009, its benefits have become immediately apparent. While still somewhat revolutionary in the United States, feed-in tariffs have had a major impact in Europe, facilitating Germany’s unlikely rise to global crown in solar energy production.

In an effort to emulate Germany’s success, Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), a publicly owned municipal utility, decided to transform its solar incentives from capacity-based rebates to performance-based incentives that reward energy production above equipment sales. And just as Germany quickly rose to prominence in the global solar market, creating green jobs and megawatt upon megawatt of solar power, so has Gainesville realized fast rewards.

In less than one year, GRU doubled the amount of solar capacity that has ever been installed in the city prior to the FIT. Two solar power plants are under construction that will produce 2,400 megawatt-hours of solar energy, and a 2-MW rooftop system will be online above the city’s largest shopping center by the end of 2010.

We need little evidence anymore for the success of feed-in tariffs. Germany, Spain and France are all national examples of how effective they are. But in the United States, the idea remains somehow foreign and oddly off the table in favor of capacity and investment incentives. Such incentives are not unsuccessful. Net metering is widespread and rebates address valid concerns with up-front costs for solar energy systems. Yet no single incentive program can hurry along the distribution of solar power like a feed-in tariff, and Gainesville stands as a stateside example of FIT’s unrivaled power to incentivize residential solar power. Will the success of Florida’s solar energy leader be enough to put FITs at the heart of the national solar power discussion? Perhaps time and continued success in 2010 will tell.

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