South Miami is going solar, but not everyone is on board
Anyone building a new house in South Miami — or in some cases renovating existing ones — will have to install solar panels under a groundbreaking law approved by the City Commission Tuesday night.
The measure, the first of its kind in Florida, will take effect Sept 18. South Miami will follow the lead of some California cities in requiring new buildings to go solar.
Representatives from local builders’ groups are the harshest critics of South Miami’s decision, arguing that although the idea has merits, it should not be a mandate.
But South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, a biology professor at Florida International University who has championed the measure for years, celebrated the commission’s decision.
“We made history [Tuesday] night. We’re the first city in the United States outside of California to approve this,” Stoddard said. “It’s not going to save the world by itself but it’s going to get people thinking about [solar].”
Before the commission voted, several city residents commented on the law.
Resident David Rifkind, who has already installed solar panels in his home, commended the commission for “making an example” that will be seen globally.
“I am very grateful and very proud as a citizen of South Miami for this measure regarding solar panels,” he said. “It’s amazing how this pushes us forward in a global conversation about the small incremental ways that we can make change.”
But Matthew Barket, who said he lives in a smaller, older home in South Miami, was concerned the new law could be more harmful than good.
“I am a really big fan of technology in all aspects — sustainable energy, computers, you name it — and I’ve advocated for these types of measures before,” he said. “The issue is really a cost benefit analysis here. I think you are not going to receive the type of return on your investment that’s being portrayed.”
Barket urged the commission to hold off and see what new technology is developed before creating the mandate.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that a medium-sized system costs about $11,000 after factoring in federal credits. South Miami has waived its permit fees for solar installations.
Builders groups, including the Builders Association of South Florida, said that the city should instead consider an incentive program like tax breaks for residents who choose to go solar.
“To me, if I’m going to put money out and [the city’s] going to encourage you to do it, that seems like a better approach,” said Truly Burton, executive vice president of the association. “I think the city has a good idea, and it has merit, but put your money where your mouth is.”
And Eric Montes de Oca, president-elect of the Miami chapter of the Latin Builders Assocation, wrote a letter to the Miami Herald before Tuesday’s vote urging the commission to consider incentives instead of making solar a requirement.
“If anyone who does not want to have solar panels, then they are not welcome to live in South Miami. This, I would argue, runs counter to our individual freedoms,” Montes de Oca wrote. “It has the potential to increase considerably the cost to construct a new home and negatively affect new home construction within South Miami.”
Under the rules, new residential construction would require 175 square feet of solar panel to be installed per 1,000 square feet of sunlit roof area, or one panel with 2.75 kilowatt capacity per 1,000 square feet of living space, whichever is less. If the house is built under existing trees, the shade may exempt it.