As appeared in the Daytona Beach News-Journal
By Bob Koslow, Business Writer
DAYTONA BEACH -- There's enough sunshine during one day in Florida to produce energy to supply the state for one year.
Solar power, though, generates only about 2 percent of all the state's power, according to the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association.
The top power-generating fuels are natural gas, 46.8 percent, and coal, 28.1 percent.
A lack of leadership and political willpower to develop and implement a comprehensive energy plan is why solar and other renewable energy sources are not more prevalent, said association officials who addressed a crowd of about 120 this week during a Solar/Renewable Energy Forum at the Advanced Technology College.
"There are hundreds of organizations in Florida, government, industry, legislatively-created and non-profits that are all components of the large picture," said Justin Sobol, manager of renewable project development for Florida Power & Light. "No one is looking at the larger picture making something happen. There needs to be central policies to unify the efforts."
Trying to unify that fractured environment, at least regionally, is one reason the College of Engineering Technology and Occupational Programs at Daytona State College sponsored the public forum.
"There is a lot of activity in the state, but none of it coalesces to a fine point and that is what we want to do," said Stan Sidor, associate vice president of the College of Engineering Technology and Occupational Programs. "Bring all the players together to talk so we know each other and know what's going on and to look to the next step."
Increasing the demand and use of solar technology could help existing solar installation companies expand and add jobs as well as open avenues for new solar equipment manufacturing and distribution businesses. And, if local officials can pull together the various regional organizations, such as the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa, the Space Coast Energy Consortium and Daytona State College, the region could become a larger hub for solar technology research and development.
The timely forum played out as political unrest in the Middle East was driving up local gasoline prices beyond $3.40 a gallon and further demonstrating the nation's need to lessen its dependency on foreign oil.
The demonstrations also inspired a tool, although less violently, to push for increased renewable energy, especially solar.
"When people speak loud enough, like in Egypt and Libya, other people listen," said Bob Zrallack, chief operating officer of UMA Solar, an Orlando manufacturer of solar thermal water heater panels.
Officials agreed many voices flooding the Legislature and demanding action is the best first course of action.
Bruce Kershner, executive director of the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, pointed out that solar and other renewable energy sources are popular.
"The state's solar rebate program ran out of money every year. No one imagined it would be so successful," he said.
He also pointed to a recent McLaughlin & Associates poll that found 80 percent of Floridians support renewable energy and 70 percent support a $1 a month surcharge on electricity bills to pay for incentives for renewable energies.
However, differences developed when discussing details of where incentives should be focused.
The big divide was between encouraging large utility-owned solar electric plants or smallerscale solar generating panels on more widespread homes and businesses.
The industries association backed rebates and other programs to spur rooftop solar installations, known as distributive generation.
Bill Gallagher, president of the FSEIA and owner of Solar Fit in Daytona Beach, said the added charge could help create 40,000 jobs for installers, plumbers, electricians and engineers; $12.2 billion in wages and $300 million in taxes.
"The benefit is long-term jobs. We need to change from the horse and buggy," he said.
Zrallack said that while the construction of three FPL solar power plants provided hundreds of jobs, they were for less than a year while rooftop installation jobs would last for many years.
Solar systems are costly and require a lot of capital that large utilities have access to, Sobol said.
He also noted the addition of large solar plants now would increase the development and use of solar technology that would eventually lower equipment costs and make it affordable in the long term for homeowners and small businesses.
FPL recently spent $625 million, $100 million less than originally estimated, on three solar electric generating plants.