CAPE CORAL, Fla.-- Rebates, tax credits, lower power bills, and job creation; going green has never looked so good. But it's an offer that may be too good to be true.
Chuck (he didn't want us to use his last name) thought he was playing by the rules when he and his wife spent thousands of dollars to hire people to install solar panels on their home.
"We were putting the people in the community back to work. We were supplying jobs so it was a win, win situation we thought," Chuck explains.
In return for his investment, Chuck was expecting to get big bucks back from the state.
"We were told and we researched it, there were statutes such as you would get a tax break," he tells us.
But Chuck struck out. Here's what happened: in 2006, the state started a solar energy incentive program to give homeowners and businesses a rebate for going green; but that program was popular and ran out of money. Then last year, Florida got more federal money for renewable energy projects; still, chuck hasn't seen a dime. Why? Because the $14.4 million in federal money was used to reimburse solar projects through June of 2009. Chuck applied in July 2009, one month late.
The state says it paid the backlogged cases first because the program was on a first-come, first-serve basis and there was never a guarantee that everybody who went green would be paid.
"My application has been approved, I'm just not going to get anything," Chuck says.
In 2008, Florida voters approved an amendment giving homeowners a break on their property taxes for going green. It's now part of our constitution.
"They voted for it, they want it; I would like to apply it," Lee Property Appraiser, Kenneth Wilkinson tells WINK.
But Wilkinson says he can't apply it because it's still tangled up in red tape.
"Unfortunately politics got involved in the last two legislative sessions and couldn't come up with an agreement on implementing language," Wilkinson explains.
Finally, Chuck and his family were hoping to see big savings on their electricity bill and they did. Their bill is now half of what it used to be, but it could be lower. LCEC charged Chuck an application fee, and four dollars more per month on his customer charge. The company also charges people who use solar a flat monthly rate for their kilowatt hour usage which is more than its regular customers pay for the first 500 kilowatt hours their regular customers use.
"They turn around and said well, we're going to charge you an application fee first of all because you went green now we're going to charge you more, per your meter than your neighbors are going to use even though you're going to be less of a demand on us. And we're going to charge you more per kilowatt hour than your neighbor because we have to make up for our shortfall," Chuck tells us.
But LCEC broke down the numbers.
"The break-even point is 1300 kilowatt hours. So a solar customer who uses 1300 kilowatt hours will actually pay less than a regular customer who uses 1300 kilowatt hours. And the average monthly usage for an LCEC customer is 1400 kilowatt hours," explains LCEC's Karen Ryan.
LCEC points out if Chuck uses a normal amount of electricity, the kilowatt hour rate actually becomes lower than average. But considering all the money Chuck spent on going green in the first place, he now thinks it just wasn't worth it.
"People have left the area by the truckload and we can't-- the ones who are trying to stay here, do the right thing and this just hits us on three sides. Well we can't get ahead. We can't even break even on this one," says Chuck.
The state was hoping to use more of the federal stimulus money to pay out solar rebates; but so far, it has not gotten the federal government's approval. The program still needs to pay out $42 million.