UPDATED July 14, 3 p.m.: South Miami is set to become the first city in Florida to require owners of new homes to install solar panels, joining San Francisco and two small cities in California as the only local jurisdictions in the United States with similar renewable energy building regulations.
A final reading is set for July 18, but there are enough city commission votes for it to pass.
Late Wednesday evening, city commissioners approved the legislation 4-1 on second reading, despite vocal opposition from developer representatives, consumer protection groups and some South Miami property owners. The new law also applies to existing properties whose owners increase the square footage of a home by 75 percent or more.
South Miami Mayor Philip K. Stoddard, who has long advocated for renewable energy solutions to combat sea level rise and global warming, said making property owners install solar panels would help reduce carbon emissions and rising temperatures. “This is about my children and my grandchildren and your children and grandchildren,” Stoddard said. “We are running out of time. It benefits everybody except auto companies and the utilities.”
However, a steady number of opponents claimed forcing homeowners to install solar panels would result in an unnecessary financial burden. South Miami Commissioner Josh Liebman said the new law would especially hurt development of affordable homes and low-income neighborhoods in the city. “All over South Miami, houses are being torn down,” he said. “This is government bureaucracy on the most micro-level. We must protect freedom of choice.”
Liebman noted that if he decided to make a major addition to his home, he would be forced to cut down oaks on his property in order for newly installed solar panels to get direct sunlight. “I would make my house warmer to make it greener,” he said. “That is counterintuitive.”
South Miami resident Michael Jones said the city should focus more on lowering crime and making residents in the low income neighborhoods feel safe. “People need security in their lives,” he said. “They don’t need solar panels. There are a lot of expenses for people who put solar panels on their roofs.”
Sandra Dinari, a homeowner whose addition to her house will make it 50 percent bigger, said increasing the threshold to 75 percent or more wasn’t going to change her mind. “I still think it should be up to the homeowner to put up solar panels,” Dinari said. “I respectfully request not making it mandatory.”
Truly Burton, executive vice-president for the Builders Association of South Florida, asked the city commission to delay voting on the solar panel legislation and submit a proposal to the Florida Building Commission stating the unique conditions in South Miami that would warrant a mandatory requirement for solar panels on new homes. “I urge you not to adopt this,” Burton said.
Opponents also argued that South Miami would force homeowners to spend $25,000 or more to put in solar panels, but supporters insisted they would considerably shave off installation costs by using a 30 percent federal tax credit and would save homeowners thousands of dollars a year in electricity.
Prior to the meeting, the Miami chapter of the Florida Businesses for Affordable Energy issued a statement saying the solar panel law would further escalate an affordable housing crisis in South Miami, making the city even more unaffordable and unattainable. “It is imperative for the South Miami Commission to weigh the legitimate economic concerns of South Miami residents before hastily imposing a poorly thought out mandate,” the statement said.
However, South Miami Commissioner Gabriel Edmund said the concerns were being blown out of proportion. “The only ones being required to add solar panels is a person who completely destroys a house and rebuilds it,” Edmund said. “This ordinance is only going to impact a very small part of the marketplace and that tends to be more high end.”
Correction: A previous version of this story indicated the vote was final but a third reading is still scheduled. The story also indicated that an expenditure of $25,000 was required for the solar panels.