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GRU offers locals solar energy incentive

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Posted: Thursday, October 16, 2008 12:00 am

Alternative energy systems in Europe have inspired Gainesville Regional Utilities to propose a completely different approach to renewable energy.

Under the proposed feed-in tariff system, GRU would pledge to buy all solar energy produced by households and businesses for 26 cents per kilowatt hour, said John Crider, GRU utilities analyst.

Currently, GRU offers a one-time rebate for installing solar panels and pays customers for a limited amount of excess energy they produce, Crider said.

Crider said he hopes the new system will give people incentive to produce more solar energy than they do now.

The new system would be the first of its kind in Florida, he said, and pending approval by the Gainesville City Commission, it could be in place by 2009.

It is also under consideration in four other states and in the U.S. Congress, he said.

The tariff will use the same equipment, solar panels that convert sunlight into energy, but would not limit the amount of energy GRU will purchase, such as the current system called net metering.

Under the new system, Crider said he expects that independent solar energy companies will be created, from which customers would be able to either buy or lease solar energy panels.

Right now, he said it isn't always cost-efficient for households to install solar panels because they usually create only enough energy to maintain themselves. That means the rebates they can get back with the current system are minimal, he said.

"This will provide a level playing field for both residents and business owners," he said.

GRU plans to purchase all of the solar energy that is produced by the new system and guarantees to buy it for 20 years, he said.

Customers who already have a solar energy system and have received their rebates would not be eligible for the new system, he said.

Although everything is still in the development stage, Crider is extremely excited for the new system.

"The more energy produced by renewable resources, which includes solar energy, the less we need to depend on burning fossil fuels such as coal," he said.

He said the innovative tariff will be more efficient, create more energy and make more money than the current system.

"Gainesville is one of the top solar-energy producers," he said. "We are most definitely proud of that accomplishment."

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