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Published Apr. 11, 2014

A capital rally to encourage solar energy development in Florida became partisan Thursday as organizers used the event to call out incumbent Gov. Rick Scott and to welcome his election-year rival, former Gov. Charlie Crist.

"In Tallahassee, it's pay to play right now - the ones that are controlling the money are controlling the power," said Stephen A. Smith, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a solar industry-backed group that advocates for the development of alternatives to fossil fuels. The group funded an Integrity Florida report that found that the state's four top electric companies spent $18 million from 2004 to 2012 on state and legislative campaigns.

In the past year, the utility companies have given the governor's campaign $2.5 million this election cycle."They get what they want," Smith said,

Smith said that Florida has the third-largest potential for rooftop solar generation in the nation but ranks 18th in solar installation because, he said, the utility industry fears the market threat of allowing homeowners and businesses to generate their own electricity.

Smith said they invited the Republican governor to attend the rally, but he didn't come. That prompted Smith to declare a new rule: "You can't be governor of the Sunshine State if you do not support solar power." He begin a call-and-response with the crowd of about 150 activists wearing T-shirts and sunglasses.

"Rick Scott," they shouted. "MIA today. Gone tomorrow."

Scott has not been a vocal advocate for alternative energy and didn't respond to requests for comment Thursday.

In his first year in office, he opposed a proposal by Florida's five major utilities that would have allowed them to charge customers as much as $1.5 billion over four years to produce more renewable energy.

Crist, the former Republican governor turned Democrat who wants his old job back, was content to oblige the solar advocates.

"We deserve to have clean energy. We deserve to have solar energy," he told the crowd.

He held up his campaign bumper sticker with a logo that he says his wife, Carole, developed.

"See what's on top of that? It's the sun," he said. "It's important that we send a message. ... We're going to clean up Florida and were going to clean up it by going more solar."