Habitat for Humanity goes partially solar on some Pinellas homes

07/12/11 Kate Bradshaw
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You hear it all the time – this is the Sunshine State; where’s all the solar energy? Critics say capturing power from sunlight is too expensive to ever catch on, but today one of Florida’s largest utilities paid for the installation of solar water heaters in low income housing.

Suzanne Grant is a spokesperson for Progress Energy Florida. She said the solar collector workers were installing overhead could store enough energy to meet the hot water needs of the average family.

The roof is on a vacant Habitat for Humanity home in Clearwater. The development is relatively new, and the house will temporarily serve as a model home. Progress Energy Florida is giving thousands in grant money to Habitat to fund installation of a total of 30 solar water heaters across the state. Ten of those are slated for Pinellas County. Grant said the collectors along with a number of other energy-saving measures, will benefit low-income customers who purchase Habitat homes.

Critics say power companies tend to drag their feet when it comes to renewable energy since it cuts into their bottom line. But Grant said solar water heaters like the ones on the Habitat home roof go a long way in helping the power giant comply with state standards.

Ronald Spoor is chief operations officer at Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County. He said energy efficiency may be expensive upfront, but the nonprofit does a cost-benefit analysis to make sure any efficiency measures will benefit the resident in the long term.

He said he hopes residents will think about the advantages of renewable energy before they shut out the idea of spending a little more.

Clean energy advocates, while often critical of the industry, say they applaud Progress Energy for pushing renewable energy. Tom Larson is the Florida Energy Policy Manager for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Larson said the only criticism he has is that utilities have been a little slow to take the lead on renewables.

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