South Beach’s transformation from tired haunt for retirees to booming hub for tourists and fun-seekers is partly owed to the unique architecture of the area.

The city’s renaissance over the past few decades has been set against a backdrop of Art Deco hotels and apartment buildings that have become avatars for Miami Beach. They’re emblematic of the coastal city’s early history and the activists who fought to preserve these relics of the past. Now city leaders want to repeat the magic.

This 1956 building, designed in the Miami Modern style by architect Gilbert Fein, is an example of the kind of architecture that is being preserved with the creation of two new local historic districts in Miami Beach. (PHOTO CREDIT: Joey Flechas, Miami Herald)

The city is moving to protect more than 200 mid-century apartment buildings across two new local historic districts — which comes with significant protection from demolition. The swath of low-slung multi-family buildings were built after World War II, many in the “Miami Modern” or “MiMo” style that has enjoyed a resurgence through the renovation of hotels along Biscayne Boulevard in the upper east side of Miami.

On Wednesday, Miami Beach commissioners unanimously voted to give initial approval to two districts in the north part of the city — one on the east end of Normandy Isle and the other a few blocks inland from the sand along the north shore between 73rd and 87th streets. A final vote will be held Jan. 17.

The designation was heralded by elected officials and preservationists who have long sought to protect this corner of Miami Beach. The hope is that by safeguarding these buildings, encouraging owners to renovate them and coupling the historic districts with a soon-to-be-redeveloped “town center” in the middle of North Beach, the whole neighborhood will be revitalized and see new economic investment. Wednesday’s vote was applauded by residents.

“Place-making is so important when you build the character of a city, and Miami Beach is one of the most unique cities in the world,” said Tanya Bhatt, a North Beach resident and activist.

This apartment building, constructed in 1949 and designed by Gerard Pitt was the setting in the last scene of “Moonlight,” the winner of the Academy Award for best picture. It is now on track to be protected from demolition as part of a local historic district (PHOTO CREDIT: Joey Flechas, Miami Herald)

The local districts include Harding Avenue from 73rd up to the northern border of the city at 87th Street, a section from Harding to Dickens Avenue between 73rd and 75th streets, and buildings on Bay Drive, Marseilles Drive and South Shore Drive on the eastern edge of Normandy Isle. This area covers a portion of the National Register District, a federal designation that does not provide any local protections.

All told, there are 313 buildings in these districts, and 271 of them are considered architecturally significant enough to contribute to the character of the neighborhood. City planners have spent a year studying each structure to prepare designation reports that provide the historical context of each district and highlight the architects who designed the neighborhoods.

“A city that respects its history respects its future,” said Mayor Dan Gelber.

The vote marked a major victory of the city’s preservation community, including the group that fought to save Art Deco from the wrecking ball of developers, the Miami Design Preservation League. Not since 1990 have so many historic buildings been given local protection at one time.

“It’s something that the community has been working on for over 10 years, to bring local protections for these beautiful Miami Modern neighborhoods in North Beach. We’re looking forward to a great future for North Beach,” said Daniel Ciraldo, the league’s executive director.

This apartment building, built in 1955 and designed by noted architect Gilbert Fein, is an example of the typical Miami Modern architecture that can be found in North Beach. It is in one of two new local historic districts that were initially approved on Wednesday. (PHOTO CREDIT: City of Miami Beach)

More buildings are scheduled to be designated, as well. Two stretches of buildings on the Tatum Waterway are currently protected by a demolition moratorium while city planners prepare designation reports for these structures. Commissioners agreed to add these buildings to the mix after the preservation community agreed to support for a zoning increase referendum for the area surrounding North Beach’s main drag, 71st Street. That referendum passed in November’s election.

Click here to see which Miami Modern buildings are part of the upcoming Historic Districts. 

Click here to view North Beach Historic Districts on Google Maps.

 

Source: Miami Herald

Starting in 2015, Pinecrest-based environmental activist Delaney Reynolds began asking dozens of public officials across South Florida to consider working with her to create a law that would change the way new homes are constructed – and “help change the world for the better.”

One mayor just a few miles from here answered her call, Phil Stoddard of South Miami, widely known as an activist in his own right, a proponent of renewable energy, an environmentalist. He quickly responded and set a course whereby he and Reynolds would work side by side for a year to research and write the language that would make up a new “Solar Requirements” section to South Miami’s Land Development Code.

On July 18, it was mission accomplished, as they enacted its new residential solar mandate, making South Miami the only municipality between The Golden State of California and The Sunshine State to enact a law mandating that solar power be installed in newly built homes or those subject to major renovation.

Reynolds issued a statement immediately following the vote: “This brave decision is historic and certainly is a step in the right direction towards my dream of turning the ‘Sunshine State’ of Florida into ‘THE Solar State’.”

A recent graduate of Palmer Trinity, Reynolds begins as a freshman this fall studying Marine Biology at the University of Miami.

The legislative process was not without its critics. In June, just hours prior to one of the city commission’s many hearings on the matter, a misinformation campaign was launched asserted this rule would force all homeowners to install solar-collection systems.

This fake fact and other inflammatory statements shared in robocalls to city residents were swiftly debunked by city commissioners. After all, the installation of solar collectors applies only to new homes being constructed and those that are renovated at or above 75 percent of their current value.

A Bold Move

“In actuality, the new requirements will impact only a few South Miami homes,” said Reynolds. “But make no mistake, this bold and smart move by city leaders is very, very important – and certainly ‘moves the needle’ in the right direction.”

Sponsor of the legislation Mayor Stoddard says it’s a “significant win-win” for residents.

“The greater benefit of this rule is, we’ll reduce carbon emissions and maybe our kids and grand kids get to stay in South Florida. And the immediate short-term benefit of having solar on rooftops is, you get power at better-than-utility prices and you get to save money.”

South Miami Commissioner Josh Liebman isn’t so sure. While he says he fully supports solar power, he says this is a “classic example” of the city commission failing to represent the community. “They are taking away our citizens’ right to choice,” Liebman said.

But Reynolds sees a bigger picture.

“Sadly, Florida ranks 14th in the amount of energy we produce from solar power, but the good news is, we rank third in our potential to generate power from the sun,” said Reynolds.

Experts predict that 50 percent of Florida’s energy can be derived from solar power by the year 2045 if the state begins to as Reynolds suggests, “get serious” about this clean, abundant energy source.

“At a time that our state and country should be dramatically increasing its sustainable use such as solar power, these rankings are a bit discouraging, but not surprising,” Reynolds said.

A Family Affair

Delaney’s brother Owen Reynolds, a sophomore at Palmer Trinity and the creator of a solar-car concept called “The Apollo Project,” spent part of his summer advocating for South Miami’s proposed solar panel law, as well. Like his sister, he’s grown up in a solar-powered home and sees the virtue of solar as he explained before the city commission at a July 11 hearing.

“In 1931, Thomas Edison was touting solar and was quoted as saying, ‘I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power!’” Owen Reynolds said. “So almost 100 years later it’s time we took one of the world’s greatest inventor’s advice and installed solar power everywhere. A reliance on fossil fuels and of old technologies is destroying our planet, and established businesses such as Florida Power & Light are all too happy with the way things are.”

At every opportunity, Delaney Reynolds challenges residents and elected officials to continue working “to help take on the many challenges facing our country as we evolve from a fossil-fuel economy to a sustainable one. But if we are to ever make that transition, I believe the solutions will most certainly begin in our local communities, just as it did in South Miami.”

While on a recent speaking trip in May in St. Petersburg, Florida, that city commission voted to begin researching and drafting a similar law after Reynolds shared public remarks about the work she did with South Miami. Now, as many as seven other Florida cities are also working on drafting similar rules.

Delaney Reynolds is founder of The Sink or Swim Project, educating and engaging people of all ages about the risks of climate change and sea level rise in hopes that we can work together as a global community to solve this crisis. For information visit www.miamisearise.com.

 

Source: Miami’s Community Newspaper

Mayfair in the Grove is set to be a transformative office project. With three separate buildings in the center of Coconut Grove and the pent up demand for innovative office projects in the city, developers expect strong leasing momentum.

GlobeSt.com caught up with Chris Dekker, vice president of Mayfair Real Estate Advisors, the project’s developer, and Tere Blanca, president and CEO of Blanca Commercial Real Estate, to get their take the types of tenants that flock to Coconut Grove. (You can read part one: Coconut Grove sees a 30-year first in commercial real estate development.)

GlobeSt.com: What kind of tenants are most interested in taking Coconut Grove office space?

Dekker: Coconut Grove has emerged as a hotbed for entrepreneurial companies and global brands, including professional services firms, media companies, design firms, international finance, investment shops, and more. The offices at Mayfair in the Grove are a good example, which is home to major organizations like Publicis/Sapient, Crispin Porter, Regus, and GE as well as an assortment of local firms that make for a vibrant tenant mix.

The common denominator across companies at Mayfair in the Grove—and those that will relocate to Terra’s new class A development at Mary Street—is that they see value in locating in an urban, walkable neighborhood that still preserves the spirit of Coconut Grove. Mary Street will also appeal to business decision-makers coming from points south who are seeking a shorter commute by comparison with traveling to Brickell and Downtown as well as those seeking office space benefiting from a modern architectural design.

GlobeSt.com: Are there specific amenities that are appealing to tenants touring new buildings in today’s market?

Blanca: The same way consumers are gravitating toward authentic, urban neighborhoods, we’re seeing office users trend toward walkable neighborhoods that offer a strong sense of community and rich amenity base. In many ways, Coconut Grove is an amenity itself and has already successfully attracted major brands including Sony Music, Sapient Nitro and Virgin Hotels.

Beyond that, tenants today value office space that enhances the lifestyle experience. At One CocoWalk, the office building is being designed with these needs in mind. We’ll have favorable parking ratios, a rooftop terrace, a private entrance and lobby for office guests, office spaces with abundant natural light and waterfront views, and an on-site fitness center inside CocoWalk. The ownership is also planning to design and build One CocoWalk to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

 

Source: GlobeSt.

Energy-efficient buildings have lower operating costs, but also tend to command higher rents and enjoy higher occupancy and tenant retention levels than traditional buildings.

A recent Energy Efficiency Survey, developed by the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) in collaboration with the Institute for Market Transformation, looked at what motivates office building owners to improve energy performance. The survey focused on how financial methods used to evaluate capital expenditures impact decisions to invest in improving energy efficiency.

IREM and the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) distributed the survey to their members and received 307 responses, which represented 1.7 percent of the total survey distribution. The survey found that most respondents use simple payback calculations to evaluate energy efficiency projects, usually basing decisions on recovering the investment in one to two years. The study revealed that this simple payback does not capture the full benefits of energy efficiency, like Net Present Value (NPV) analysis, which incorporates potential revenue increases from higher rental income.

The survey also found that building owners are more inclined to invest in energy-efficiency improvements if they can charge higher rents, particularly in split-incentive situations, where energy-cost savings accrue solely to tenants. Split incentives had posed a barrier to investing in improving energy efficiency, but this was overcome with the “green lease,” which requires tenants to participate in energy and water conservation programs.

Additionally, the survey noted that while the property manager is responsible for the building’s everyday energy management, the asset manager usually makes the final decision on whether to invest in improving energy performance. When third-party managers have authorization to make capital expenditures it is usually a small dollar amount of $25,000 or less.

“But that authority exists almost not at all,” according to Brenna Walraven, founder/CEO of Corporate Sustainability Strategies Inc., which provides sustainability strategy development and execution plans.

CBRE’s Global Director of Corporate Responsibility David Pogue notes he is surprised IREM’s study focused on energy efficiency.

“Energy efficiency was a singular topic a decade ago, when everyone began getting buildings Energy Star-certified,” Pogue says.

Pogue was less surprised by the low rate of survey respondents, which he suggested is an indication that people viewed the survey topic as old news. When a 2009 study of 150 Energy Star buildings in 10 markets revealed that these buildings were commanding rent premiums of three to five percent and enjoyed high occupancy levels, landlords of class-A office buildings got on board, but those with lower quality assets did not necessarily.

“Today most of the office sector has broadly adapted green practices, though not every building is necessarily certified by a green-rating system,” Pogue says.

The 2016 Green Building Adoption Index study by the CBRE Group Inc. and Maastricht University showed that the rate of growth in ‘green’ building has slowed, rising from 39.3 percent in 2014 to just 40.2 percent last year, but adoption of green building practices in the 30 largest U.S. cities continues to be significant.

“While the rate of growth in ‘green’ buildings has slowed modestly, our latest study underscores that in most major markets, sustainable office space has become the ‘new normal,” Pogue notes.

The study reported that 11.8 percent of U.S. office buildings, representing 40.2 percent of office space, have been certified by either the U.S. Green Energy Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) or the U.S. Energy Department’s Energy Star program.

“However, that nearly 40 percent of high-profile office buildings in core urban markets are green-certified because they have to be green to compete,” Pogue adds. “Those buildings tend to attract high-profile tenants, who demand a high-performance building environment.”

LEED rates a building’s impact on the environment, but Pogue points out that the next level of certification, International WELL Building Institute, rates a building’s impact on occupants. The WELL Building Standard places health at the center of indoor design, incorporating healthy ideas based on seven concept categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

 

Source: NREI

Westpoint Retail Plaza

Castle Real Estate Enterprises has engaged Ven-American Real Estate, Inc. to exclusively manage and lease Westpoint Retail Plaza, an immaculate 16,655-square foot neighborhood center, located at 10101-10251 W. Commercial Blvd. in Tamarac.

Tenants at the center include Dunkin Donuts, Subway, AT&T, Rotelli Pizza & Pasta, CareSpot Urgent Care, Gentle Dentistry, Brightway Insurance and Liberty Tax.

Under Ven-American Real Estate’s management, Subway held a Grand Re-Opening, unveiling a new mouth-watering store redesign focused on integrating technology into all aspects of the restaurant design.

Only one of every five Subway shops in the entire United States will feature this design, which includes:

 

  • All new décor, equipment and design
  • New self-ordering kiosks, allowing guests to “skip the line” and get in and out quicker
  • New touchscreen fountain beverage machine with flavor-customization capability
  • New digital menu display
  • New coffee and specialty coffee program using freshly-ground coffee beans
  • New Panini sandwich press
  • New sauces and toppings

Subway’s goal with the new design is to create a more welcoming and comfortable environment for “this generation’s consumer” while continuing its dedication to delivering the same delicious, fresh and healthy food products the brand has provided since 1965.

Andrew Kruss

“We are very honored to be a part of this technology-centric Subway store concept,” commented Andrew Kruss, Director of Commercial Services for Ven-American Real Estate, Inc.  “It’s the first one in the entire state of Florida, and being a part of any ‘first’ is always exciting,” he added.

The shopping center has also begun a “redesign” of its own.  The property has recently been freshly painted. In addition, plans call for an upgrade to the lighting throughout property – not only for energy efficiency purposes, but to provide a better quality of light and coverage, as well as reducing maintenance costs.

“Our goal is to continue to make tenants and visitors feel safe and make the property more aesthetically pleasing at night,” said Kruss.

Andrew Kruss is a Ygrene Certified Contractor and has helped many clients improve their energy and water efficiency. Projects include lighting, HVAC, roofing, energy controls and impact windows. At Monarch Commerce Center in Miramar, Florida, another Ven-American Real Estate, Inc.-managed property, Kruss was able to reduce energy consumption by approximately 40% while improving light coverage and quality.

“We have also reduced lighting related maintenance costs by approximately $5,700 per year,” Kruss explained.

Andrew Kruss has owned, managed, leased and sold commercial property for thirty years. He is a practical, solution-oriented, hands-on manager who believes in efficiency in property management and energy sustainability solutions.

Kruss added, “We look forward to working with the tenants and Castle Real Estate Enterprises to make the property more attractive, efficient and productive for the entire community’s benefit.”

The shopping center, conveniently located along the Sunrise/Tamarac city boundary, features 150 parking spaces, AT&T Fiber and Comcast Cable, as well as excellent visibility facing busy Commercial Blvd. cross streets Nob Hill Road & Hiatus Road, with 50,000 vehicles per day traveling between the neighborhood thoroughfares. The property is also located adjacent to heavily-traveled Sawgrass Expressway.

A 68-year-old, two-story apartment complex in Miami’s Little Haiti could be transformed with a zoning proposal allowing towers as tall as 28 stories and up to 5.42 million square feet of development.

To view a SFBJ slideshow of the Eastside Ridge in Miami’s Little Haiti, click on the photo

SPV Realty, managed by Sharon Olson in New York, hired Kobi Karp Architecture to craft a redevelopment plan for its 22.5-acre site at 5045 N.E. 2nd Ave. It currently has the walled-in Design Place Apartments totaling 515 units. The company wants to rezone it using a special area plan (SAP) titled Eastside Ridge that would increase its density and height in addition to allowing commercial uses.

On Dec. 21, the city’s Urban Design Review Committee will consider the SPV Realty’s SAP and site plan, with a maximum development potential of 2,798 apartments, 418 hotel rooms, 283,798 square feet of commercial/retail space, 97,103 square feet of office space and 4,636 parking spaces. Building heights would range from eight to 28 stories — higher than other buildings in Little Haiti.

North of downtown Miami and west of Biscayne Boulevard, the Little Haiti neighborhood has been overlooked by developers for years. Its median household income of $27,457 in 2013 was below county-wide income levels, according to U.S. Census data.

However, increasing prices in booming neighborhoods to the south such as Wynwood and the Design District have prompted some businesses and residents to move to Little Haiti. Tony Cho and Dragon Global recently announced plans to redevelop 15 acres at the corner of Northeast 62nd street and Northeast 4th Avenue as Magic City with a mix of entertainment, residential and commercial uses. They have yet to announce development density on that site.

Kobi Karp said SPV Realty hired him a few years ago to develop a plan to make its apartment complex better for its residents and the community. He said the owner would work to keep residents on the property as it’s redeveloped. These apartments would be for everyday working people, Karp said.

“The owner has been here for decades and doesn’t have enough apartments,” Karp said. “They said, ‘I am full and these buildings are falling apart so why don’t I built more?’”

Karp said Eastside Ridge would better integrate the property with the community, including the Jewish Health facility on its west side, where another redevelopment plan is proposed, and Archbishop Curley Notre Dame High School to the south. New internal streets and green spaces would invite the public onto the property.

There would be pocket parks on every corner, a park along Northeast 2nd Avenue and a central ovular park. He also envisioned an outdoor green market operating there on the weekends. Karp said the project was designed around the existing trees on the property.

“We wanted to maintain openness and green tree canopies of the site,” Karp said. “Towards Northeast 2nd Street, we present a plaza and green space so if people feel like they want to walk through our site, they can.”

In case passenger rail is ever extended on the FEC line running along the east side of the property, the site plan calls for a station there. The SAP would allow for a parking reduction of 30 to 50 percent should a train station be placed on the property.

The East Ridge SAP site plan shows 16 buildings, ranging from eight stories closer the the streets, to four buildings of 28 stories each around the park in the center of the property. Each building would have ground-floor retail and two would contain hotels. The office space would be combined with retail and apartments in the same buildings. Each building would contain some parking, with some garages under ground. The buildings would have green roofs with native vegetation and the parking structures would be topped by amenity decks.

Similar projects have been developed and proposed in parts of Miami-Dade County, such as in downtown Miami, Brickell and Aventura, but there’s nothing of this scale and design currently in Little Haiti. Karp pointed out that when he opened his office near Midtown Miami in 2004, that area had only mid-rise buildings and now it’s booming with large-scale development.

“The density that has existed there (the Design Place Apartments) for the past 80 years for it to keep with the new zoning code with the new parking and to introduce the retail and the offices there, the height is necessary, especially if you want to preserve and increase the green spaces,” Karp said.

The site plan calls for 6.8 acres of open space, more than triple what’s currently permitted under the present zoning. Karp said he created that open space by increasing the heights of the buildings so they have a smaller footprint at the ground level.

“The buildings could be shorter but then there would be less green space and open space,” Karp said.

If the Eastside Ridge SAP is approved by the UDRB, it would still need to pass the city’s Planning Board and commission. Kimley Horn is the planning firm on the project and Edward Martos is the developer’s attorney.

 

Source: SFBJ

Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA) and sister company SolarCity (Nasdaq: SCTY) unveiled new solar roofing tiles at an event on Friday at Universal Studios in Los Angeles.

“The concept behind the new technology is to make solar panels “as appealing as electric cars,” Musk told the audience. “The goal is … to make solar roofs that look better than a normal roof, generate electricity, last longer, have better insulation and an installed cost that is less than a normal roof plus the cost of electricity,” Musk said. Musk is also chairman of SolarCity, which Tesla plans to buy in a $2.2 billion acquisition deal.

Traditional solar panels typically have photovoltaic cells assembled on a rectangular glass frame that sits on top of a roof. Tesla and SolarCity have updated the look by embedding technology that converts sunlight into electricity within glass roofing tiles. The goal is to make solar panels less of an eyesore and more of what consumers would like to install on their modern homes. Musk showcased various types of solar roofs, which were set up on mock buildings around the studio.

tesla-roofing-tilesTesla will make four variations of the glass roof tiles: an American-style textured glass tile; a French slate roof tile; one with a smooth, modern look; and a Tuscan tile that mimics Italian terracotta roofing. SolarCity will begin making solar products next summer at a factory in Buffalo, New York. In addition to the solar panels, Musk also revealed new versions of its batteries for buildings and the power grid. Tesla’s newest generation Powerwall 2 will cost $5,500 and can provide 14 kilowatt-hours of electricity, which is enough juice to power a four-bedroom home for a day.

“People always think of Tesla as an electric-car company, but really the whole point of Tesla was to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy,” Musk said.

After Tesla merges with SolarCity, the combined company is expected to achieve more than $150 million in cost savings in its first year. Additional information about the proposed merger is planned for Nov. 1. Shareholders on each side of the transaction are scheduled to vote on the merger on Nov. 17.

Tesla just reported third-quarter profits of $22 million, or 14 cents per share, beating Wall Street’s expectations. It’s the first quarterly profit Palo Alto-based Tesla has reported since the first quarter of 2013.

In January 2015, Tesla Motors of Florida Inc. signed a lease for a 2.57-acre, 33,750-square-foot warehouse in Interstate Park, 100 S. Lake Destiny Drive near Eatonville, where the car maker built out a showroom, sales center, service center and charging station. This was a second Central Florida location for Tesla Motors Inc. (Nasdaq: TSLA), as the company in 2013 opened a ministore and service center in Longwood.

Musk‘s SpaceX rocket company also has a significant presence on Florida’s Space Coast, where it launches its Falcon 9 rockets from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

 

Source: SFBJ

The policy director of a think tank supported by Florida’s largest electric utilities admitted at a conference what opponents have claimed for months: The industry attempted to deceive voters into supporting restrictions on the expansion of solar by shrouding Amendment 1 as a pro-solar amendment.

Sal Nuzzo, a vice president at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, detailed the strategy used by the state’s largest utilities to create and finance Amendment 1 at the State Energy/Environment Leadership Summit in Nashville on Oct. 2.

Nuzzo called the amendment, which has received more than $21 million in utility industry financing, “an incredibly savvy maneuver” that “would completely negate anything they (pro-solar interests) would try to do either legislatively or constitutionally down the road,” according to an audio recording of the event supplied to the Herald/Times.

Nuzzo offered others a recommendation: “As you guys look at policy in your state, or constitutional ballot initiatives in your state, remember this: Solar polls very well,” he said. “To the degree that we can use a little bit of political jiu-jitsu and take what they’re kind of pinning us on and use it to our benefit either in policy, in legislation or in constitutional referendums — if that’s the direction you want to take — use the language of promoting solar, and kind of, kind of put in these protections for consumers that choose not to install rooftop.”

The comments underscore the claims made by opponents to Amendment 1 on the November ballot that the utility-backed political committee, Consumers for Smart Solar, was formed to undercut attempts to allow third-party sales of rooftop solar by leaving voters with the impression that their rival amendment will expand solar generation in Florida.

Spokeperson for Consumers for Smart Solar, Sarah Bascom, however, contradicted Nuzzo’s claims and told the Herald/Times late Tuesday that “Consumers for Smart Solar did not engage or hire or ask JMI to do research regarding the effort.”

Robert McClure, executive director of the Tallahassee-based James Madison Institute, responded to this report and said Nuzzo “misspoke” when he characterized the effort as a strategy to deceive voters into thinking the plan was a pro-solar amendment.

“At an event with an unfamiliar, national audience, Mr. Nuzzo generalized his commentary and misspoke in reference to JMI partnering with Consumers for Smart Solar in any capacity,” McClure said in a statement. “JMI has never worked with or received funding from Consumers for Smart Solar,” McClure said in a statement. “We have released policy positions on both solar amendments and have publicly spoken on the pros and cons of each.”

The solar industry-backed group, Floridians for Solar Choice, wants to encourage a broad-scale solar market in the Sunshine State by using the state Constitution to remove the ban on third-party sales and require lawmakers to allow customers to lease their solar generation to neighbors or building tenants. But the effort failed to get enough signatures to appear on the November ballot. It is expected to return in 2018.

Threat To Utilities

Utility investors, like Warren Buffett, and the industry’s trade group have warned that distributed energy from solar and wind are long-term threats to the monopoly economics model of the investor-owned utilities. Floridians for Solar Choice claim that the amendment attempts to convince voters that it is pro-solar when it “paves the way for barriers that would penalize solar customers” and adds to the state Constitution “the false assumption that solar customers are ‘subsidized’ by non-solar customers.”

Nuzzo confirmed that he made the comments while on a panel for the conference. He disagreed that the strategy was deceptive and instead claimed that the opponents of Amendment 1 “have been rather deceptive about the degree to which solar is already incentivized and already propped up and subject to more crony carve-outs than anything else.”

In mailers and television ads for Amendment 1, the utility industry says it will allow customers to “strengthen your right to generate your own solar energy … protect consumers, particularly our seniors, from scam artists … and protect consumers who don’t choose solar from having to pay higher monthly electric bills.”

The Florida Supreme Court approved the amendment language in a 4-3 vote, concluding the proposal was not misleading but did enshrine into the Constitution protections consumers already had. Justice Barbara Pariente, in her dissenting opinion, called the language “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” because it would allow utilities to raise fees on solar customers and was “masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative.”

In the hour long audio recording acquired by the left-leaning Center for Media and Democracy and the Energy and Policy Institute, Nuzzo told the group that the utility-backed amendment was motivated in part by the popularity of the solar industry’s proposal and their ability to win the support of free-market advocates.

“They actually leveraged some of the less savvy, less informed, tea party groups and formed what is now called the Green Tea Movement — God help us, we’re dead and destroyed,” Nuzzo said. “So they come in and they merge and they start a constitutional ballot initiative. They go out and sell a ballot initiative saying if you put solar on our rooftop, shouldn’t you have ability to sell to your neighbor? Yes, that’s free-market … that’s exactly what they were marketing as a free market principle and the tea party got behind this.”

Who Pays For Grid?

He said JMI, a free-market research and policy organization that has ties to the Florida utility industry, saw it differently. Nuzzo explained that they believe that solar users are being subsidized by non-solar users because they don’t pay for the fixed costs of maintaining the electricity grid.

“So here’s the James Madison Institute, this right-wing think tank, the Koch Brothers-funded group, part of the vast right-wing conspiracy going ‘please stop!’ ” he said. “They wouldn’t stop, so the idea was that they were completely and vehemently opposed to any grid maintenance cost being spread out.”

Nuzzo said that his reference to the Koch brothers was “in jest” but that they had given money to JMI. Nuzzo would not say how much. According to federal tax documents, JMI has received more than $120,000 from the Charles Koch Institute and Charles Koch Foundation, and Stan Connally, the CEO of Gulf Power, sits on JMI’s board of directors. Gulf Power and its affiliates have contributed more than $2.3 million to the utility-backed amendment, which also has received funding from Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Co., and non-profit groups primarily funded by Exxon and the Koch brothers.

Adding to the utility industry’s dilemma, Nuzzo told the panel, was the fact that the solar-industry-backed amendment “was actually polling in the 70s.”

“Why? Because the tea party was behind it,” Nuzzo said. “We even saw some folks that we would normally play pretty well with — the chambers of commerce locally, the business community — was kind of galvanizing behind it. Why? Because if you’re not a utility generating organization, this kind of helps you because it makes it a little bit easier for you to go that route and sell it. The other problem with the pro-solar amendment is that the language of the ballot initiative is mandating in the Florida Constitution that solar is the preferred energy source in the state of Florida. It directed in the Constitution that the Legislature create policy to advance solar interests in the state. So the utility industry came to JMI and said you guys are the adults in the room, you’re the ones that have access to the research, to the scholarship … to a lot of the national organizations. We need some help.”

‘Savvy Maneuver

Nuzzo said that the utilities also created a political committee, Consumers for Smart Solar, that not only funded the JMI research but then “also, in what I would consider an incredibly savvy maneuver, they put forth their own constitutional ballot initiative.

“That ballot initiative also gathered the 700,000 signatures, but what it said was individuals have the right to own solar equipment, they have the right to install solar equipment and lease it, they have the right to generate as much electricity as they can.”

Nuzzo said JMI partnered with the conservative Heartland Institute and a free-market researcher from Florida State University’s Devoe Moore Center to conduct the research requested by the utility industry. Consumers for Smart Solar said did not clarify whether or not the organization reached out to these groups for the research assistance.

Together they “built a model” and, in a report released in December, concluded that over 10 years if the solar industry-backed amendment was approved, the cost of maintaining the electricity grid would be shifted from solar customers to non-solar customers — a $1 billion cost shift “from wealthy solar consumers on to the folks who were not able to install and to the rest of the ratepayers.”

It’s an argument solar promoters vigorously disagree with. They argue that instead of costing non-solar customers more, solar energy brings more value to the electricity distribution system than it takes away. Floridians for Solar Choice argues that instead of protecting customers, Amendment 1 imposes barriers to solar expansion in Florida that will cost customers more money in utility bills.

They point to a Brookings Institution study in May that concluded that when solar customers sell their power back to the electric utility through a billing system known as net metering, it helps non-solar customers by reducing the need to build new power plants to meet peak demand, reduces the need for costly grid maintenance, reduces reliance on oil and gas power generation, lowers utility rates, increases energy security and saves customers money.

“The economic benefits of net metering actually outweigh the costs and impose no significant cost increase for non-solar customers,” the Brookings report concluded. “Far from a net cost, net metering is in most cases a net benefit — for the utility and for non-solar rate-payers.” The report also cited several state-based studies that offered similar conclusions.

Nuzzo acknowledged Tuesday that the JMI research looked only at the hypothetical impact of the solar industry-backed proposal and did not take into consideration the net metering studies done by governments in many other states, including those that allow third-party leasing. He said he considers Florida’s current net metering law, which pays customers retail rates for the excess energy they sell back to utilities “absolutely the subsidization of solar.”

Also at the Oct. 2 meeting, Todd Wynn, director of external affairs at Edison Electric Institute, the trade association for investor-owned utilities, detailed the threat net metering poses to the industry. None of the presenters made any mention of the Brookings report or the reports from several states that have studied the impact of net metering on customer bills.

“If a homeowner had a large enough solar power system, they could essentially zero out their bill,” Wynn said, arguing that the cost of maintaining the electrical grid would then be borne by the non-solar customers.

He suggested two solutions are to charge all customers to access the grid, and the other is to reduce the net metering rate so that the utility will not have to pay retail rates for the excess energy. When asked about what impact Amendment 1 would have to any pro-solar amendment in the future, Nuzzo told the Energy Summit that it is likely to severely limit the Solar Choice amendment in 2018.

“If Amendment 1 passes, in my opinion and the opinion of people far smarter than me, it would completely negate the ability of the Green Tea movement folks to make a ballot initiative that would include subsidization and a cost shift on it,” he said. “It would cancel — it would attempt to cancel — that one out.”

David Pomerantz, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, one of the groups that obtained the tape, said the audio reveals that the groups behind Amendment 1 “were very clear about the utilities’ plan when they thought the public wasn’t listening: They’re trying to confuse voters into believing their utility-backed ballot initiative is pro-solar.

“It’s a dirty trick, and Floridians should show them that they’re too smart to let them get away with it.”

 

Source: Miami Herald

Costs could start to fall for Florida consumers who want to finance energy efficiency improvements with no money down and no credit check.

That’s the optimistic view from Paul Handerhan, a principal of the new Fort Lauderdale-based company, Clean PACE Inc., created to promote and certify program providers in the Property Assessed Clean Energy program.

Over the summer, four providers reached agreements with Broward County to offer property owners countywide the opportunity to finance a wide variety of energy efficiency and storm hardening improvements. Palm Beach County is working out details and expects to finalize agreements by early 2017, Handerhan said.

“Having them compete against each other, ultimately we’re going to see better consumer protections, interest rates and contractor controls,” Handerhan said. “We’re seeing that now. PACE providers are starting to get somewhat competitive in their offerings in order to gain market share.”

Unlike traditional loans, repayment is set up as an assessment on the owner’s property tax bill, and the loan can be transferred to a new owner when the property is sold. Homeowners with mortgage loans can have the repayments rolled into their monthly mortgage bills.

Eligible projects include solar energy systems, new roofs, new hot water heaters, new air conditioning units, upgraded insulation and impact-resistant windows and doors. Customers see cost savings right away as utility bills and homeowner insurance bills fall, supporters say.

Renew Financial, approved on June 14 to offer PACE financing programs countywide in Broward, officially launched its program in Florida.

Cisco DeVries, the company’s CEO, said his business recently certified 150 Florida contractors for PACE programs and is ready to market the program to homeowners throughout Broward and many cities in Palm Beach and other counties.

“Already, the company has hundreds of thousands of dollars in approved contracts with Florida homeowners, many of whom can’t afford upfront costs for expensive improvements,” DeVries said, adding, “We help them knock down those barriers. Formed in 2008 in California, the company completed more than $300 million in residential PACE projects in the state over the past two years. It’s growing very quickly. We signed contracts for more than $49 million in projects in August.”

Interest rates for financing through Renew Financial range from mid-6 percent to low 8 percent, depending on the size and term of the financing, among other factors.

“Assuming interest rates remain low overall in the financial world, consumers could see competition driving rates lower,” DeVries said. Competition is good for consumers and good for cities and counties they serve. Our approach is to encourage multiple PACE providers in cities so everyone benefits. But it’s critical for the programs to have strong rules — clear disclosures to consumers and protections for everyone involved so this continues to evolve.”

The other PACE providers approved to compete countywide are Ygrene Energy Fund, which pioneered the concept in the South Florida market over the past year; Renovate America; and Florida PACE Funding Agency.

Handerhan predicted the PACE market could see some companies offering interest rates as low as 5.9 percent regardless of the loan term. Also, some might seek an edge by lowering origination fees, which tend to be slightly higher than traditional financing.

“Those higher fees come with benefits borrowers don’t get from traditional financing,” Handerhan said. “If I go to a bank and borrow $10,000, I’m kind of on my own at that point. If the contractor walks away, I owe that $10,000 regardless. With PACE, the provider manages every step of the process, including pulling permits and certifying the contractor. The customer only signs off at the end of the process.”

 

Source: SunSentinel

Primary-election voters approved the expansion of a renewable-energy tax break that backers say will help businesses and spark the expanded use of solar energy in Florida.

But while the measure had support from an array of groups, they are divided on an unrelated solar amendment on the November general-election ballot that could lead to a major political fight.

The proposed constitutional amendment approved Tuesday was known as Amendment 4 and was placed on the ballot by the Legislature. It is designed to extend a residential renewable-energy tax break to commercial and industrial properties.

Shortly after the polls closed, the measure was more than 10 percentage points above the required 60 percent threshold needed for approval of constitutional amendments. The preliminary results indicated that the measure, which backers say will spur growth in solar and renewable energy, was supported in almost every county.

“The strong showing of support for Amendment 4 sends a clear message to elected officials at all levels of government that Florida voters want more diversity in our energy market,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who sponsored the proposal during the 2016 legislative session.

Though approved by voters, the measure still needs the Legislature to enact the changes. The measure, sponsored in the House by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, and Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, will exempt for 20 years the assessed value of solar and renewable-energy devices installed on businesses and industrial properties.

“Eliminating high tax barriers will unleash the potential of the ‘Sunshine State’ to become a leader in solar energy production,” Rodrigues said in a statement.

“The election results allow Florida to enter a new era where renewable energy can be accessible for all, and clean energy jobs can be at the forefront of Florida’s economy,” Berman said.

Voters approved a similar exemption for residential property owners in 2008, with the measure taking effect in 2014.

The new proposal also has an element to help residential property owners, as it would exempt all renewable-energy equipment from state tangible personal property taxes.

Support for the measure came from a wide range of organizations such as the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, the Florida AFL-CIO, the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club of Florida and Surfrider Foundation.

A poll released last week by the Florida Chamber of Commerce showed 70 percent of Floridians supported the proposal, with 14 percent opposed. Yet on Friday Mason-Dixon Polling & Research released findings that indicated the measure was having serious trouble with Republicans and independent voters.

Some late opposition to the measure came from groups such as the Orlando-based political action committees Stop Playing Favorites and the Advocacy, Action & Accountability Alliance, which claimed the amendment would provide “millions in tax breaks to big corporations” at the expense of money that would otherwise flow into minority communities.

Backers of the measure also had to overcome some confusion that the proposal was linked to a separate utility-backed solar proposal on the November ballot.

With Tuesday’s victory, supporters of Amendment 4 are now expected to divide up on what is known as Amendment 1 in November.

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said his group is ready to immediately “pivot” from having supported Amendment 4 to vocally opposing Amendment 1.

“What Amendment 1 does not have is the support of a broad, very diverse, grassroots coalition,” Smith said. “It is exactly what it is, a utility-backed, utility-funded, self-promoting approach to try to keep a monopoly control on their terms.”

The November “Consumers for Smart Solar” initiative would generally maintain the status quo in allowing Floridians with solar equipment on their property to sell energy to power companies.

More than $15 million has already been spent promoting the November amendment.

 

Source: Daily Business Review