If you are living and looking into solar panels in Tampa, FL then you are no doubt aware that your state is called the "Sunshine State" with good reason. In fact, you are usually able to enjoy up to 244 days of sunshine each year!
With all those golden rays coming in, it's no surprise that you are interested in installing a solar panel system on your roof to invest in the free energy available to you. Solar systems represent a great investment for your home, community, and nature itself and this opportunity is ready for you in Tampa!
Unfortunately, there are a few obstacles that you will have to deal with while living in Florida and due to the mixed bag of policies in the state, we currently rank it a solid 'C' compared to other states in the US. You will come out way ahead in some areas, but some financial opportunities will be closed to you as well. Let's find out what we're dealing with.
* Note that these are estimated values for informational purposes only, and do not take into account the full complexity of all financial projections. They also only apply to cash purchases, which means your numbers will be different if you lease your system or pay for it with a loan (factoring in interest).
There are a few options for buying or otherwise getting access to solar panels in Tampa and we will look at the pros and cons for each method.
Although it is impossible to tell you exactly how much your system will cost to purchase and install, we can look at sources like the Solar Electric Power Association and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to get an average cost of $16,600 for a typical home-sized 5-kilowatt system. This size is a good balance between the savings you’ll generate and the costs you will have to cover in order to install it, assuming that you are getting good productivity! We will use this cost to show upfront costs and expected returns on your investment into solar energy.
Remember, this cost is also before any financial incentives such as rebates or tax savings (such as the Federal Tax Credit that knocks off 30%). So, how long would it take to pay off your system? When will you start making some free money by selling energy back to your utility? Which payment method should you choose?
These are all great questions, but to answer those questions let’s look at why solar panel systems are considered an investment. The lifespan of a typical solar panel system is about 25-40 years and it will be producing free energy for your home over this time period.
We’ll take the conservative estimate and say that buying a solar system is like making an upfront investment in the next 25 years of your home’s energy. The “return” on this investment is all of the money that you are saving by not paying the utility company for energy production. Your returns will also improve from any extra energy that you are able to produce and sell back to the utility (more on that later!).
Cash is king and there is always an argument to buying something outright with cold, hard money.
Paying cash avoids any type of interest payments, for instance, and it will possibly allow you a little more flexibility with your installer depending on the situation. Financially, however, it might not always make the most sense to pull out $14,560 from your pocket upfront when there are other options available.
Let’s check out how it would work.
Using cash, you will be pulling out $16,600 up front for your system during your first year. This is obviously a big down payment. When you file your taxes for the year you purchase your system, however, you will be able to take advantage of the 30% federal tax credit for $4,980 and you will have also saved about $843.54 during that first year in reduced energy costs for a combined total savings of $5,823.54!
We’ll talk more below about how we can determine the energy savings you will see with your system. The beauty of solar is that your system will produce about this much energy each and every year over its lifetime, but the cost of generating that energy stays the same (nothing except for maintenance).
The energy that you would normally be using from your utility company, however, ordinarily increases each year. As a normal customer of your utility company, you might not be paying a whole lot of attention to the details of your energy bill, but your costs each year can rise substantially and you will have no choice but to pay the utility company what they are asking.
You see, utility companies are often granted monopoly rights by the state and that means that there is very little flexibility when it comes to changing companies unless you are willing to move to another part of the state. Although Duke Energy does not currently service the Tampa area, they recently raised their rates by 48% over a 10 year period. Wow.
Looking back at the cash method, your system will usually pay itself off in around 12 years and you will see $17,844.22 (total savings on electricity – total system cost) in income from your system over its lifetime!
Leasing is an option that has surged in popularity across the US as companies have recognized that there is a huge market for making solar affordable to those that wouldn’t ordinarily have the means to pay cash or finance a loan for their system.
Unfortunately, the state of Florida does not currently allow leasing. Don’t worry though because leasing may be the cheapest option up front, but there are less long-term benefits to this method.
More: Solar Leases
Due to the simple fact that you are using someone else’s money to invest in your solar panel system, taking out a loan can represent the best option for a lot of people looking to take the leap into solar.
Obviously, financing is not usually the tool of choice when someone is looking to make money in the long run, but due to the nature of rising utility costs, the math can actually work in your favor.
Let’s use the $16,600 from the cash example. Let’s also assume that you are using a 15-year home equity line of credit (HELOC) or any other loan source that has a 5% or less interest rate.
Remember that even though you are taking out a loan to finance your system, you still have access to the 30% tax credit because you are the one doing the financing. So you will actually be taking the loan out for $16,600, but you will be getting back $4,980 when you file your taxes for the first year. See, you’ve already made money!
The rub to this method comes down to the loan payment. Due to this payment, you will actually end up spending about $61 per month for solar in your first year. We can find that number by taking your total loan payments (about $1,575) and subtracting your energy savings (about $843.54).
Btw, you can use just about any loan calculator to come up with these numbers for yourself.
Because your utility bills typically increase each year, however, you’ll end up paying less and less for your system as the years go by. Your loan payments and the percentage of energy covered by your system stays the same each year while the amount of energy you are saving is worth more and more. After your loan is paid off in 15 years you will actually start to see savings north of $1,000 per year from your system until the end of its 25-year lifespan.
In this scenario, you’ll be generating about $10,815.22 in net savings from your system over its lifetime, but you never paid any of your own money up front!
More: Solar Loans
Here we discuss some of the larger policy issues related to solar in Tampa, Fl.
The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is basically the overall energy policy that determines how much energy is required (if any) to be produced by renewable sources such as wind, biomass and solar. If the state is interested in developing renewable energy, this policy gives them an opportunity to force the state utility companies to start developing energy production.
Unfortunately for those of you living in Tampa, Florida does not currently have any type of renewable portfolio standard. Not having an RPS means that there is no incentive for the major utility monopolies to lift a finger to help grow renewable energy sources in the state and it is up to smaller companies and individuals to help lead the movement for solar energy in Florida. There is no reason to give up hope without an RPS, but it is certainly encouraging to see official support from your government.
On average, Floridians pay about 11 cents per kilowatt-hour on their electricity bills which is actually two cents cheaper than the national average. Energy costs are important because these costs factor into how much your solar panel system will save you. If you are paying less than the national average, then you will be saving slightly less than someone else that has the same system as you do.
Don’t get discouraged by this fact, however, because no matter how low your costs are from your utility company are now you will eventually recoup your solar investment and start generating profit from it.
Don’t forget that utility companies tend to raise their rates by at least 3-4% per year and the electricity produced by your solar panels won’t cost you any more in the future. The math works out in your favor!
For anyone interested in powering their home with solar energy, net metering is something that you need to learn about immediately! Basically, net metering is a system that requires your utility company to monitor exactly how much power you are consuming from them while also checking to see how much power you are feeding back into the grid. You see, solar systems work by producing abundant energy during the daytime, but less at night.
What this means is that you might actually be producing more electricity than you need during the day while you use energy from your utility grid during the night. The other part of net metering, the best part, is that the utility companies must actually pay you a set rate for any energy surplus that your system provides to the grid!
Florida’s state net metering laws, set back in 2008, make it very easy to hook up to the grid to start gaining from these benefits because there is no maximum amount of people that can tie in. They will also roll your energy surplus forward for up to 12 months, at which point they will pay you for any excess. This is a win-win for those of you that have frugal energy lifestyles and want to help serve your community and the planet by providing clean, renewable energy!
More: Net Metering
In Florida, the interconnection rules are a bit of a jumble between good and bad for any would-be solar installer.
Interconnection policies define exactly how customers are allowed to “plug in” to their local power grid and deliver power to the utility company from their home system. The good news for you is that the rules are actually quite simple for smaller, single-home systems. The rules state that larger systems have features such as external disconnect switches and they also make insurance mandatory on those systems.
For systems under 10kw, which should be pretty much anyone reading this article, there are no such requirements. Your single-home system will be very straight forward!
Some cities and states have really gotten behind solar in a big way, but unfortunately Florida is a bit of bad and good at the same time. In some ways, it seems like the state government really wants to open up the doors for solar and invite new customers to start paving the way to cleaner energy. In other ways, it looks like it is purposefully trying to close the doors. Just remember that local incentives are just icing on the cake for anyone interested in solar because you will be coming out way ahead once your system is paid off and you are able to reap the rewards of your investment.
The only official statewide rebate program that has ever existed in Florida was the Florida renewable energy tax incentive program which has unfortunately been discontinued. Under this program, the state would reimburse individuals and companies for certain expenses related to renewable energy and even refund previously paid taxes for eligible equipment. The state government did not anticipate the demand for solar that its citizens would have and subsequently ran out of funding for the program. Who would have ever thought that the sunshine state wouldn’t be enthusiastic about solar?
Unfortunately, there are no other incentives available to residents in Tampa, FL. One bright note, however, is that the local utility (Tampa Electric) does seem to make it easy to get your system connected and fully supports net metering. They also offer citizens without a solar system the ability to purchase “blocks” of renewable energy produced by the utility as a way to help the environment.
The big score for anyone interested in solar since 2005 has been the residential renewable tax credit. This credit allows for a 30% tax credit for any costs related to purchasing and installing a new solar panel system. This basically means that you can take 30% of the cost right off the top of going solar. Remember that you can qualify for this credit when you pay for the system with cash or a loan, but leasing the system means that your installer gets the credit.
Moving on to local property taxes, residents of Tampa will be pleased to learn that the state of Florida currently allows for a 100% exemption for any solar equipment that adds value to your home when assessing your tax bill. This is quite a financial windfall for you because the value of your home can actually increase up to $20 for every dollar of electricity that you are saving each year with your solar panel system.
The reason your home will increase in value with solar is that the cost of maintaining your home actually decreases when you go solar. Don’t worry about losing the value added to your home when the time comes to sell it though because you’ll be able to roll the value into the asking price.
Continuing with the awesome tax trend in Tampa, sales tax is another area in which you will see a great incentive to go solar. If you purchase a system for your home, you won’t have to pay a cent of sales tax because the state offers a 100% exemption on the sale! This is basically equal to a 7% reduction in the cost of your system in Hillsborough county. If your system cost $14560, you are saving $1019 at the time of purchase.
As we touched on before, a solar panel system can definitely add value to your home. A recent study suggests that people were willing to spend up to a $4 per watt premium for homes with a standard-sized system. If you look at the math, it means that a 5-kilowatt system could add as much as $20,000 to your home. Considering that you won’t be paying any additional property taxes on this extra value in Tampa, it definitely looks like a win-win!
If you are currently trying to decide whether or not to purchase a solar panel system in Tampa, FL then my recommendation is that you strongly consider all of the wonderful benefits that are available to you in your state. Although there might not be the most direct incentives available to you, the tax credits, state tax savings and a strong net metering opportunity are all great ways to save money.
Don’t forget that you are in the Sunshine State and you are living in the third highest state in the country in solar potential! Also, we recommend that you contact a local qualified installer to get an actual solar estimate for your exact situation!
The best way to get started is by getting a solar estimate from a qualified solar installer in Tampa. Click the link below to get started!