Elon Musk’s solar energy company SolarCity is basing a new Florida expansion in Clermont, west of Orlando. The company’s new Florida effort comes just weeks after the defeat of an Election Day amendment critics said would have stifled competition. The company announced Thursday that it has begun installing solar energy systems in the Orlando area, will hire more people locally and expects to expand to other parts of the state “in the coming months.” Solar City recently began making loans to help pay for the systems and installations available to any homeowner. The company right now employs 54 people, who have been working in Florida since last year, installing systems in new homes and military family housing from its Florida headquarters in Clermont.
The company employs installers, salespeople and others who support operations there. CEO Lyndon Rive did not say how many people the company would hire in Florida, but said it could be hundreds, depending upon demand. On Election Day, a state constitutional amendment backed by utility companies failed. Opponents had said Amendment 1 would limit competition among solar companies. SolarCity’s decision to make a push in Florida relied upon the amendment’s rejection, Rive said. “The entire industry was nervous,” Rive said. “But we had an incredible coalition with multiple industry groups and everyone just defending their right to produce their own energy.” Jim Fenton, director of UCF’s Florida Solar Energy Center, said he was surprised the amendment did not pass. He believes election results showed that there is a market here for SolarCity to jump into.
“We now have a big, huge player coming around here,” he said. “That’s a real company not a guy with just like five people hanging around trying to sell solar. When they come in here and are out there trying to make deals, that conversation gets out there.” SolarCity creates solar panel systems and local teams then install them at customers’ homes. The panels then produce electricity to power the home. Saying the proposal would incentivize homeowners to install solar panels, utility companies collected enough signatures to get Amendment 1 on the November ballot. Opponents said the ballot initiative was deceptively written. Rive said it “was meant to kill solar.” “We are fortunate enough that the residents of Florida were smart enough to figure out it was a tactic that would take their choice away and limit competition,” he said.
On Oct. 2, as Amendment 1 seemed on its way to a close vote, a misstep from an amendment supporter helped steer the conversation. Audio surfaced of James Madison Institute Vice President of Policy Sal Nuzzo saying “a little bit of political jiu-jitsu” had been used to win support for policy changes. Opponents said the speech confirmed suspicions that the amendment had been worded to deceive. The campaign came on the heels of the passing of Amendment 4, which provides tax breaks for companies that use solar equipment for business purposes.