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Environment

Kathy Castor Introduces Legislation On Solar Power

Four clean energy advocates speak in a Zoom meeting about the Community Solar Consumer Choice Act of 2021.
On Earth Day, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, upper right, introduced the Community Solar Consumer Choice Act of 2021 that helps expand solar energy, with a focus on helping low-income families.

On Earth Day, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor introduced the Community Solar Consumer Choice Act of 2021, that helps expand solar energy, with a focus on helping low-income families.

Rep. Castor, D-Tampa, held a news conference on the Community Solar Consumer Choice Act of 2021, that would increase solar energy accessibility to everyone in the country.

It would require the Secretary of Energy to establish a program to increase participation in community solar, with an emphasis on serving low-income communities.

Castor is chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. She said we have to act now to avoid the consequences of a warming planet.

“The science is clear. There is no substitute for clean energy. We need to build a lot more renewable energy projects,” said Castor. “We need to build them quickly because we can't afford any more pollution and the risks and costs of inaction are way too high.”

Community solar allows members of a community to jointly benefit from the energy produced by a shared solar array. Typically, individuals and businesses own or lease a portion of a third-party solar system, or purchase kilowatt-hour blocks of the renewable energy that the system generates.

The US Department of Energy has successfully expanded access to community solar in at least 39 states and the District of Columbia. But, Florida is catching up now.

The Environment Florida Research & Policy Center in 2020 ranked Tampa highly among major U.S. cities in the number of solar power units currently installed.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp said there is irony in Florida being the Sunshine State and not being a leader in solar energy.

“We have this great natural resource right here just to be tapped. There's no reason for us to be importing. I watched for years as the price of (solar) panels just came down and our opportunities in Florida rose up,” said Kemp. “This is this clean energy revolution that we are in and that we want to lead the way in and need to lead the way in.”

Hillsborough County has already allocated $5 million for solar panels in libraries and fire stations, LED lighting, and electric buses for Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

“We have so many opportunities, LED lighting and all our parks to cut our energy, cut our emissions, but go solar because we have that natural resource here,” said Kemp.

She said community solar projects would help consumers save money, create jobs and reduce harmful emissions. Community solar would also expand Florida’s clean electric grid, maximize local storage, and reduce energy costs.

Organizers said in the last decade, the nations’ solar market experienced an average annual growth rate of 42 percent and saw the cost of solar installation drop by more than 70 percent.

However, nearly half of all American households and businesses are unable to install a rooftop solar system because they can’t afford it.

Ann Vanek-Dasovich of Solar and Energy Loan Fund said that community solar would lower the barriers to entry for low-to-moderate income families, lowering their electric bills and putting money back into their pockets.

“Community solar puts local contractors to work who hire local residents to work on those jobs, and in turn, they support local businesses. And not only that, but generally solar is a great way to help create a storm resilient community that we can all benefit from,” said Vanek-Dasovich. “Going solar helps everyone reduce their energy burden and their carbon footprint along the way.”

Community solar would help communities who are often on the frontlines of the impacts of our changing climate.

Gabriella Da Silva of Moms Clean Air Force Tampa Bay said that low-income communities breathe in significantly more air pollution and live in areas with low air quality. As a result, they are exposed to higher rates of asthma and other respiratory issues.

“Now let's throw extreme heat, hurricanes, flooding and sea level rise into the mix all while trying to keep the lights on,” said Da Silva. “As climate impacts worsen, it is imperative that we implement more resilient and efficient infrastructure that will provide equal access to underserved communities.”

“If we want to save the world, we can't leave behind 45% of the families,” Vanek-Dasovich added. “It's going to take out all of us and you know, literally we all are in this together.”

Kemp said that Florida is the most threatened place and Tampa Bay is one of the most threatened places in the world by climate change and sea level rise.

“We know now that we have to act urgently, we're running out of time, the catastrophic impacts of the warming climate are upon us, whether it's more intense hurricanes in our neck of the woods, or the slow creep of sea level rise that impacts our drinking water,” said Castor. “Warmer temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico make those hurricanes intensify a lot quicker now and we have to be prepared.”

Da Silva added, “I leave you with this quote, 'Nothing in nature lives for itself. Rivers don't drink their own water, trees don't eat their own fruit, the sun doesn't shine for itself. Living for each other is the role of nature.'”

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