President Obama visits Florida – a trip filled with irony

800px-air_force_one_landingPresident Obama is visiting DeSoto County, Florida today to headline the opening ceremony of the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) facility in the country. This must signal that Florida is on its way to a clean energy future, right?

Well, not so fast. The facility is certainly a testament to the vital role renewable energy should play in meeting energy demand, creating jobs and reducing global warming pollution. Yet, the Florida Legislature, Governor Crist, and the Florida Public Service Commission have failed to implement meaningful clean energy policies to keep the momentum going after President Obama jets away from the Sunshine State.

For starters, Governor Crist’s clean energy initiatives, including an executive order calling for 20% of our electricity to be generated from renewable energy sources by 2020, have stalled in Tallahassee. Twenty-eight other states have implemented renewable targets as a way to promote investment, create jobs and protect customers from fossil fuel price spikes. Why should renewable energy developers invest in Florida, when other states provide incentives? Losing ground to other states in the clean energy economy is particularly poignant at a time of record unemployment in Florida. All told, less than 4% of Florida’s energy demand is met by renewable energy — and less than 1% of that is met with solar.

The twenty-five megawatt DeSoto facility that the president will visit is owned by Florida Power and Light (FPL) and comes courtesy of a provision in a 2008 state energy bill that allowed the utility to recover all its costs of this and two other solar pilot projects – totaling 110 megawatts. FPL should be applauded for jumping on the opportunity. Yet, it is crucial to also develop a market for distributed solar energy that is owned by non-utility third parties. Creating certainty in the market is how we realize the benefits of distributed solar energy. Unfortunately, the market certainty isn’t there in Florida for private developers and individual homeowners to invest in solar PV facilities.

The popular Florida Solar Energy System Incentive Program has been hamstrung by insufficient funding for years and has now started paying out rebates on backlogged applications thanks to federal stimulus dollars. The program is set to expire next year. One solar business association is so desperate to keep the dollars flowing into the state rebate program that they’ve made a conditional deal of support with proponents of offshore oil drilling if projected revenue will be directed to solar programs. The state of renewable energy in Florida is hardly a shining example for the president to hold up as an example of the burgeoning clean energy economy.

Florida fares no better on the energy efficiency front. At least seventeen states in the nation are successfully achieving five to ten times more energy efficiency than Florida’s largest utilities. It’s ironic that on the same day we celebrate the Florida Legislature’s solar success, the Public Service Commission is deciding whether to approve FPL’s proposed efficiency goals for the next ten years when they are more than ten times lower than efficiency goals mandated by leading states.

Governor Crist’s call to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Florida to 2000 year levels by 2017, and 80% below 1990 year levels by the year 2050, has been mothballed. Rule-making workshops by Crist’s Department of Environmental Protection, intended to produce an adopted greenhouse gas emission reduction rule by year’s end, have been postponed indefinitely.

Even the governor has quietly forgotten about his clean energy initiatives as he positions himself to win his party’s primary for U.S. Senate against conservative opponent Marco Rubio.

As President Obama steps back on Air Force One, he leaves behind a state where renewable energy developers clamor for renewable targets and incentives, customers desperately need relief from rising electricity bills, families demand action on climate change, and unemployed workers hope for a new economic engine to spur the economy. The governor, legislature, and state agencies would be wise to leverage the president’s visit as a catalyst to get back on track toward setting renewable energy targets, developing meaningful efficiency goals and creating clean energy jobs in Florida.

Click here for Obama’s speech at the opening ceremony of the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Center in Arcadia, Florida.

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I’m a big fan for growing the clean energy economy – it’s one of the new economic engines that might pull Florida and the US out of the recession.

Given the sad state of renewable affairs in Florida, is this really the best place to promote clean energy? -k

Comment by kevin on October 26, 2009 1:31 pm

[...] CleanEnergy Footprints » Archive » President Obama visits Florida … [...]

Pingback by How to Clean Contact Lenses : Removing Debris Under Contact Lens | Contact Cases | Discount Contact Lens Cases on October 26, 2009 7:42 pm

What’s the biggest threat to America’s power grid?


Comment by Mike Licht on October 27, 2009 6:04 am

Unfortunately, the Florida Public Service Commission, the Florida Senate and the U.S. Congress all consider nuclear energy to be “renewable’ and apparently ‘clean’ without regard to fuel reserve limitations and ‘external’ mining, enrichment, storage and disposal operations. Until government is made to focus on subsidizing and providing consumer incentives for truly clean, safe and renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, tidal with a distribution system that does not favor inefficient, capital-intensive projects that favor large utility corporations, it will remain business as usual in Florida and the rest of the US.

Nuclear energy is about enhancing shareholder value at the expense of the natural environment and ratepayers.

…. and radioactive waste is a millennial legacy that goes well beyond ‘irony’.

And anyone who says solar, wind and tidal cannot be brought online in a short period of time needs to revisit the history of American manufacturing efforts during the years of our involvement in World War II or how President Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon was met in the 1960s.

Comment by Jim Walker on October 27, 2009 10:26 am

And to further promote solar over nuclear, there is practility no local small business component to the nuclear industry. Nuclear also propagates the “big plant” mind set that wastes giga watts of electricity for every meter of powerline that the electricity has to travel from the plant to its end use. No nuclear waste, no carbon emmissions, no terrorist threat, and the potential to support an entire industry of solar manufacturers, retailers, and installers. The choice is simple: Go Solar.

Comment by Sean Campbell on October 27, 2009 12:28 pm

my car ran out of gas, so I parked it in the sun for 3 hours, still wont start. solar power is a scam.

Comment by Terry on October 27, 2009 4:48 pm

Sorry you ran out of gas, sounds like you where trying to use the wrong technology at the wrong time, see I have have solar panels on my house, they sit in the sun all day, and my utility company owes me money, no scam just clean energy.

Comment by Dr. Stephen A. Smith on October 27, 2009 5:07 pm

I think Solar is a great way to “reduce” conventional energy demand but this Arcadia Florida system is nowheres near “saving” anybody money. They need to be honest about that.

This system cost $150 million and can supply 3,000 homes, only during the day light hours,
so that actually cut’s the demand to just 1,500 homes full time, divide the $150M by 1,500 users and that’s a cost of $100K per user,
divide that by the 25 year life cycle of these Solar Panels and you’ve got $4,000 a year operating cost per user.

4,000 ÷ 12 months = $333.33 a month electric bill just to break even, not counting costs of their maintenance or billing services. (Right now FPL claims their average users bill is $109 a month.)

This calculation only illustrates that there is no real “savings”, That is why FPL is actually charging “all” their customers for building these Solar grids to hide the true cost/loss ratio.

‘PSC will let FPL pass costs of solar projects to customers’ July 15, 2008

“The Florida Public Service Commission took the first step today in approving three Florida Power & Light Co. solar energy projects estimated to cost $688 million.”

“That means customers who use 1,000 kilowatt-hours would pay about 83 cents more on their monthly bills in 2011 and 31 cents more over the first 25 years the plants are operating.”

Comment by Maxwells on October 28, 2009 12:20 am

Solar and Wind are the future, but this system in Arcadia is not saving money as they claim.

How is charging consumers three times more to use this Solar grid better? That’s not the Future that’s rushing in to be First at any expense and then passing the cost along to the consumer.

For $150M they could’ve equiped 3700 homes with full time Solar Systems (@40k ea), or equip Schools and Government offices and removed that demand from the grid entirely and save Taxpayers some of the costs for operating these facilities as well.

That would be a great start, not exaggerating the benefits to a system that’s costing three times more to operate.

Comment by Maxwells on October 28, 2009 12:22 am

Solar works best when it’s “distributed.” That’s when folks like you and I are generating power and selling the excess back to the grid.

Comment by kevin on October 30, 2009 9:01 am

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