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Robert Trigaux

Solar in Florida: Are we for it or against it?

Solargettyimages Wake up and good morning. Suddenly solar power is so in vogue -- especially in Florida -- that you may need sunglasses just to read this posting. Sure, we're all for one and one for all about alternative energy. But solar's high price is still high and its technology in many ways still Neanderthal: It takes hundreds of acres of solar panels to generate much juice in the form of viable electricity. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Enter federal policy. New federal incentives to encourage renewable energy in the United States will give the industry a boost, analysts say.

Exit state policy. For the second year in a row, the Florida House killed efforts by Gov. Charlie Crist and the state Senate to pass a plan that would put the state at the forefront of the renewable energy movement. Defeated was a bill that would have required power companies to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources including nuclear, solar and wind by 2020.

Why can't we make up our minds? It's a critical debate explored in this recent St. Petersburg Times story.

A New York Times story this weekend looks at the American branch of SolarWorld AG, a company based in Bonn, Germany, that is ramping up production of solar cells in a retrofitted factory in Oregon. All in anticipation of the presumed solar boom.

Yet solar is, ahem, a hot topic. Witness today's Bradenton Herald story headlined Proponents Predict Bright Future for Solar Energy in which Robert Weissert, spokesman for the non profit Florida TaxWatch organization, says Florida must move quickly to become a solar energy leader because other states like Michigan and Pennsylvaniaare already entering the business. Florida TaxWatch issued a briefing paper in April called The Positive Economic Impact of Solar Energy on the Sunshine State which concludes:

"This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to attract a new, clean-tech industry to the state, bringing with it new jobs, taxpayer advantages, and critical forward thinking energy policy."

The Bradenton Herald story notes passage of a bill in Florida that allowed FPL (parent of Florida Power & Light) to build facilities that provide 110 megawatts of solar power throughout the state and recoup the capital outlay from customers. For now, FPL customers are paying about 31 cents a month. And, the story adds, thousands recently turned out in Indiantown in Martin County to apply for the 1,100 jobs that will be needed to build a75-megawatt solar-thermal FPL plantthere. That's enough solar energy to produce steam used to provide energy for about 26,000 homes. The facility will be connected to an existing fossil fuel plant so solar can supplement: When the sun is shining, FPL will use less fuel to produce the same amount of power.

Other solar projects are in the works, including one by West Palm Beach energy company Energy 5.0 whose solar project in Polk County will be tapped by TECO Energy's Tampa Electric for electricity.

BabcockranchsolarrenderingSyd Kitson, chairman and chief executive officer of Kitson & Partners, a development firm based in Palm Beach Gardens, is banking on the future of solar energy at Babcock Ranch in Lee County in a major development (see rendering) near Fort Myers. Babcock Ranch will eventually have between 45,000 and 50,000 residents and is being designed as a sustainable community. The development has partnered with FPL to build a roughly $350 million, 75-megawatt solar system that will help power the community. Kitson hopes have the solar system, which will occupy 400 acres, up and running by the end of 2010.

Hey, bravo for all these projects. But until federal and state policies stop clashing and neutering each other, it will be tough to get much momentum for any energy initiatives.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:24am]


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