Want solar panels? You still have to pay Florida utilities

LEESBURG, Fla. — More Americans are making their own electricity with solar panels, but Channel 9’s Jamie Holmes found it’s much more difficult for people in Central Florida to live off the grid.

Robert Tarr lives in a house in Leesburg that has more than 2,000 square feet of space, and everything runs on solar power.

"We can be totally self-sufficient with this system,” said Tarr.

Tarr spent more than $60,000 for a system of 32 solar panels for his roof. But even though his house can generate enough electricity to run indefinitely without being hooked to a power company, legally, he still has to be connected and pay the Leesburg Electric Department for power he doesn't even need.

"So you can be completely free of the grid?" Holmes asked.

"Yes,” Tarr said.

"But they make you attach to the grid,” Holmes asked.

"Yes,” Tarr said.

In Florida, it's up to individual utility companies whether they will allow people to disconnect.

But state code requires a homeowner to be hooked up to a utility company, even if the homeowner can generate their own electricity.

"We have so many different freedoms in the state. Each jurisdiction and their building officials have the ability to decide who gets certificate of occupancy and who doesn't, and the ability to revoke a certificate of occupancy if you're not connected to the grid lives in their jurisdiction,” Patrick Altier with Solar Trek Inc. said.

There are some people out there in the state, though, who are living off the grid. Eyewitness News reached out to some of them, but they said they were afraid if they were discovered, they too would be forced to connect.

Tarr said he’s frustrated because he has all the power he needs, except the power to disconnect.

"I have a problem with it, OK? I think if I want to be totally independent of them, I should be allowed to be,” Tarr said.

If Tarr were to stop paying his electric bill, he said Leesburg would shut off his power. City officials could also revoke his certificate of occupancy for not being hooked up to the system.

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