The takeaway message:

By 2021, Florida will have the most capacity for solar energy in the entire Southeast, according to a new report by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. This announcement comes as some Florida utilities continue to move away from fossil fuels in favor of cleaner energy.

What’s going on?

According to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Florida is set to surpass North Carolina in total installed solar capacity by next year, even earlier than previously predicted. The state will become the Southeast’s regional leader, trailing only California nationally.

One reason for Florida’s shining review: Its utilities are driving the development of solar capabilities, unlike other states where solar efforts usually follow government initiatives and incentives. Among those utilities, SACE lists Florida Power and Light’s “Solar Together” project, which it says would double the entire country’s “community solar” total over the next two years.

Last month, Jacksonville’s utility, JEA, committed to shutting down a Georgia power plant it owns along with Florida Power & Light. That coal-fired plant represents one of the country’s largest sources of carbon emissions from a single location. The move comes as several utilities open new solar facilities within the state.

Two new solar farms in Osceola and Orange Counties are now providing energy to 30,000 homes as part of the Florida Municipal Solar Project — an undertaking by 12 utility companies from around the state that will supply power to 16 cities. Duke Energy also announced plans to open three new solar power plants by 2021 in Alachua, Hardee and Manatee Counties. This could lower annual carbon dioxide emissions by almost 3 billion pounds, according to Duke Energy Florida’s state president.

Residential solar production also received new investments: Solar United Neighbors, a national non-profit solar advocate received a $30,000 grant from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. This money can be put toward a new pair of residential solar co-ops in Sarasota County, the organization’s educational outreach programs and its work with local governments to ease transitions to solar power.

Why it matters.

Investment in renewable energy allows us to move away from fossil fuels that have contributed to climate change, the effects of which Florida is especially susceptible. As a renewable resource, solar energy does not create air pollutants and has minimal environmental effects.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, solar accounted over one-third of the state’s renewable energy production in 2018. Renewable energy, however, only made up 3% of Florida’s net electricity generation, whereas natural gas accounted for around 70%.

Even so, solar production is increasing every year in Florida. As the cost decreases and interest among residents rises, utilities are recognizing the economic opportunities that come with solar power.

More than 45% of homeowners in the U.S. have seriously considered installing solar panels at home, marking an increase from 2016. Solar United Neighbor’s 56 Florida neighborhood solar co-ops are expected to save participants a collective $3.4 million over the life of the installed power systems by allowing households to pay group-rates rather than retail cost.

And as the U.S. government looks to address climate change, a shift to renewable energy means the creation of jobs in that sector. Tampa-area Rep. Kathy Castor chairs the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which released a report late last month with recommendations for climate policy.

Castor tells the Tampa Bay Times that the types of jobs created by plans to tackle climate change could help alleviate some of the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Florida’s solar industry currently accounts for more than 12,000 jobs, and Castor told the Times her plans include expanding solar production in Florida.

In addition to providing jobs, solar power can also mean savings for some customers. FPL announced that monthly bills are expected to be around $4 cheaper for average households this year, due in part to investment in solar and clean energy centers.

What can I do?

Learn more:

Other noteworthy “Earth Systems & the Economy” news: