The City of Tallahassee’s new solar project may be good for the environment, but evidence indicates it will not be good for the local economy.
A spokesman for the City of Tallahassee told Tallahassee Reports that the city’s new solar project will not create any local recurring jobs.
A spokesman for Origis Energy, the Belgium company which owns the project, confirmed there would be no full time jobs created, but highlighted the use of local vendors in building the project. The construction took approximately four months.
In addition, the fact that the project is owned by a foreign corporation means local dollars usually spent in Tallahassee will not only leave Tallahassee, but will leave the United States.
Jobs and Solar
Mayor Andrew Gillum, in his initial campaign announcement for governor, touted the creation of green jobs by solar projects like the one in Tallahassee.
Let’s invest in the clean energy that provides good-paying jobs and protects our natural resources, and makes a strong statement that Florida is about to become the capital of this country when it comes to producing solar energy that puts people to work right here.
However, it appears that most recurring jobs related to the solar industry are created by solar manufacturing plants and solar installers, not by a utility scale project like the one approved by the City of Tallahassee.
Also, research by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) indicates locally owned renewable energy projects create more economic benefits because local projects are more likely to use local labor and materials, provide benefits to local shareholders, and borrow from local banks.
Impact on Local Economy
The impact of the Tallahassee’s first solar project on the local economy was never analyzed by the City of Tallahassee.
However, performance and usage numbers provided by the City of Tallahassee detail the potential impact of the solar project on local spending.
The City of Tallahassee projects the 20 MW solar facility will meet the energy needs of approximately 3,330 homes. These homes, on average, will use 900 Kwh per month and generate an average monthly bill of approximately $100.
These estimates indicate that approximately $4 million a year will be redirected to Origis Energy and out of the Tallahassee economy.
And this impact could grow.
On January 26, 2017 the City Commission authorized staff to enter negotiations with Origis for a second solar farm that would produce an additional 40 MW of solar power and also be located on airport property.
This means the total dollars spent on solar power could increase to approximately $12 million each year.
Understanding the full impact of utility scale solar projects on the local economy is becoming more important given the fact that environmental groups are seeking long-term renewable energy goal commitments from local governments.
In November the Leon County Commission agreed to examine the goal of using nothing but renewable energy by the year 2035. And in October the City Commission directed staff to create a plan to hit 100 percent renewable goal by 2035.
As with the initial solar project, these discussions about long-term commitments to renewable energy have been solely focused on the environmental impacts. There has yet to be a report on the impacts of such a transition away from locally manufactured energy on the local economy.
An analysis of economic impacts could determine at what point renewable energy usage would result in direct job losses for those who work with the city’s electric utility.
The analysis could also evaluate the impact of consumer spending moving to renewable energy rather from a local energy provider.