Let the sunshine in

Castles in the Sand

The Broadway musical “Hair” broke many barriers with its revolutionary nude scene and treatment of sexuality and drugs in 1968. But what I remember most about the show is the music, particularly “Aquarius” and its stirring “Let the sunshine in” finale.

In Florida we know about the sun and so does California, which has taken a major step to harness the sun’s energy. Early last month, California became the first state to require solar panels on almost all new homes including single-family homes starting in 2020.

Nationally, solar power makes up less than 2 percent of the country’s electricity output according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And the combination of wind and solar power account for about 8 percent of the power generated in 2017, up only 1 percent in a decade.

The elephant in the room in California, and I’m sure in every other state, is what exactly will this new mandate cost homeowners? According to California’s regulators, the panels will increase the cost of construction to the average home by $9,500, however, the average nationwide cost of installing a rooftop solar panel system is $18,840.

There is a 30 percent renewable energy tax credit available, assuming Congress keeps extending it, but the panels require annual maintenance and possible repairs. There is, however, a saving in utility costs estimated in California at $80 a month, but coming up with a hard dollar figure in savings is difficult. Nevertheless, finding ways to switch to renewable energy should be a goal.

We are seeing more and more new construction communities building eco-friendly features. The LEED Certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is sought after by developers. In order to be certified, buildings have to be designed, built and maintained using best practice strategies for green building and energy efficiency. Some of this includes improving energy performance and indoor air quality, using locally-sourced sustainable products, reducing potable water usage and building on sustainable sites to minimize environmental pollution.

Locally we have several LEED builders who are following the U.S. Green Building Council’s standards. LEED certified does add additional cost to the initial building, but developers indicate that the extra cost pays for itself, not only in energy savings but also in promoting an environmentally friendly lifestyle.

In Cortez, there is a new community of coastal cottages already approved that has been working with the Florida Solar Energy Center in its design. Not only will the community be an eco-friendly community but will also be zero energy ready, producing more energy than it consumes.

Florida is certainly one of the country’s prime states to use solar power, but unless and until the technology can make financial sense, it’s unlikely that both homeowners and developers will move forward at any substantial pace. Perhaps California’s mandate will provide the incentive for the solar industry to find ways to provide more affordable and convenient solar energy to individual homes.

I’m always a little suspicious of government mandates, but I’m more than willing to have California take the lead and become the solar power laboratory for the rest of the states. Hopefully, it will result in less expensive and more innovative technology. This could be the dawning of a new age of Aquarius, so let the sunshine in; it’s free.