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Gubernatorial race shines light on solar energy in Sunshine State

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Charlie Crist is talking up solar energy in Florida’s too-close-to-call gubernatorial race.

Advocates say solar is getting cheaper, and Florida’s growing population and sunny weather make the state a top market for the alternative energy.

But state policy discourages solar energy.

The Sunshine State gets less than 1 percent of its energy from the sun. Most of its energy comes from natural gas, which it gets from out of state.

Stephen Smith of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says the price of solar is coming down, and its use is growing in other southeastern states. But not in Florida.

“Florida’s Public Service Commission largely is only doing what big utility companies want, which isn’t to encourage solar. And we don’t have leadership through the governor or Legislature. And therefore none of the tools the other states have used to really grow the solar market have been available in Florida.”

Buck Martinez of Florida Power & Light says economics, not state policy is the issue.

Martinez says FPL operates three solar plants statewide but gets a fraction of its energy from solar.

“Our job is to provide the most effective, cost-reliable system. So if solar would meet that we would be building a lot more solar, but the reality is today natural gas has been significantly more cost effective and reliable than solar at least here in Florida.”

While Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s environmental platform has focused on springs and alternative water supply, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist says he wants to work with the Legislature to grow solar in Florida.

Stephen Smith says utilities will resist Crist’s position on solar.

He says utilities are among the most generous contributors to Florida political campaigns, and they do not want to lose control of the energy market.

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Amy Green

About Amy Green

Reporter and Producer

Amy Green covers the environment for WMFE News. She is an award-winning journalist whose extensive reporting on the Everglades is featured in the book MOVING WATER, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, and podcast DRAINED, available wherever you get your podcasts. Amy’s work has been heard on NPR and ... Read Full Bio »