City of Lakeland should embrace the future by investing in solar, not gas, now

The City of Lakeland is looking in the wrong direction when it comes to our energy future. Lakeland could be soaking up those sunny Florida rays, but instead the city plans to continue relying on imported gas. In doing so, the city faces the very real prospect of getting left behind economically as the rest of our state moves toward a clean energy future.

City leaders seem to be relying on yesterday’s data while neighboring utilities embrace affordable, locally generated clean energy. The City Commission is reluctant to move more firmly toward producing solar energy to meet the electricity needs of residents and businesses. As a result, the city will likely be stuck with an overpriced gas plant long after it has become obsolete.

The reality is that Florida is going increasingly solar, finally living up to the potential of its beloved Sunshine State nickname. Like their counterparts across the country, Florida utilities are shifting more of their energy generation to solar to save money: FPL has announced plans to install 30 million solar panels by 2030; Duke Energy announced locations for two new solar energy facilities; and even the City of Tallahassee, another municipal-owned utility, recently completed its second solar farm and will soon be able to generate enough electricity to power 13,000 homes.

Thanks to meteoric cost declines in recent years, the National Renewable Energy Lab confirms that solar power is now the cheapest resource available to Florida’s utilities. As an added bonus, solar generates power when Lakeland most needs it – during hot days when our air conditioners are running at full blast.

Combined with advanced storage capabilities, solar can ensure stable power for homes and businesses day or night. Investments in community-based solar also give Lakeland options for creating resilient microgrids that can keep the lights on for hospitals, police stations and other emergency services during hurricane season.

You don’t have to support “green energy” to understand the dollar and cents value of solar power. Florida already gets two thirds of its electricity from gas, creating a risk of price spikes for all of us who pay an electric bill. Avoiding over-reliance on volatile natural gas resources that have to be imported from out of state can give us energy independence and peace of mind.

Looking for land to build a solar farm? As the daughter of a farmer who was born and raised in Lakeland, I encourage you to consider the opportunity that solar affords to invest back in our communities by leasing under-productive land from small family farms that desperately need stable income. Solar leases are a critical source of investment that help farmers weather tough seasons and keep our energy dollars in our communities, where they bolster local tax revenues. Many “solar farmers” are now planting pollinator-friendly plants under solar panels to increase crop yields. It’s a win-win for electric bills, food security and our struggling family farmers – and something out-of-state gas certainly can’t offer.

The City of Lakeland is about to make a multi-decade decision. Rather than investing large amounts of ratepayer dollars to lock us into more imported gas, the city would be wiser to invest in clean energy resources right here at home.

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