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Florida falls below six more states in solar rankings, including Georgia

Published Dec. 10, 2013

Florida has fallen further behind in solar installations, this time losing ground to the likes of Delaware, Vermont, Missouri and Georgia.

A report released today by the Solar Energy Industries Association shows Florida fell from 12th in solar installations to 18th in the third quarter of the year.

The slip comes as solar installations on a national scale continue to soar. Solar panel installations in 2013 are expected to end the year 27 percent higher than 2012, though solar still produces only a fraction of the power of coal, nuclear and natural gas.

"As we approach the end of 2013, it remains clear that this will be a banner year for solar in the United States," researchers for GTM Research stated in their report for the solar energy association.

"Even more monumental for those who have been tracking the global solar market for years, 2013 will likely be the first time in more than 15 years that the U.S. installs more solar capacity than Germany."

So what's holding Florida back?

Solar proponents blame a lack of state leadership and elected officials who cater to the wishes of Florida's investor-owned utilities, led by Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy and Tampa Electric.

The utilities argue that Florida has too many clouds to make solar viable without a cost-effective system for storing the energy. Utility companies favor what is known as "baseload" generators such as natural gas and nuclear, which can produce power 24 hours of the day, and also generate greater returns for their shareholders.

Florida is likely to fall further back because it lacks the kind of policies found in 36 other states that promote development of renewable energy, called renewable portfolio standards.

The state also has tax hurdles for solar leasing companies that hinder widespread deployment of residential and commercial building solar programs. The leasing programs help property owners avoid huge up front costs of solar installations.

"You've got Adam Putnam saying, 'We're not going to follow other state's leads,' " said Scott McIntyre, president of the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy. "Okay, what is our policy then?"

Putnam, through a spokesman, declined to comment because he had not seen the report.

Florida's approximately 200 megawatts of installed solar is dwarfed by California, which remains by far the nation's leader with almost 4,000 megawatts. Arizona, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, Hawaii, Colorado, Pennsylvania and New York round out the Top 10.

A growing chorus of renewable energy and energy efficiency proponents continue to call for broader use of solar against the push-back of utility companies.

"Florida lawmakers should be embarrassed to let big power companies lock out a market for solar in the Sunshine State," said Susan Glickman, of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "We squander this God-given resource so utilities can keep out competition. Politicians are complicit in this crime."

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, has organized a work group of solar industry businesses, environmental groups and elected officials to raise the profile of the issue.

And 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist also has raised the issue.

"We're the Sunshine State, and we're hardly doing any solar energy production," Crist told MSNC's The Ed Show host Ed Schultz. "We should be the global leader in solar energy."

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332.

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