Whether Charlie Crist can beat Rick Scott and win back his job as Florida governor, that’s tough to say. But the Republican-turned-Democrat is sure taking an interesting tack in the race: He’s vowing to help the state seize upon its significant solar resource.
Crist’s call was highlighted in a recent PolitiFact piece that examined the former governor’s claim that Florida was “hardly doing any solar energy production.” Crist had added, “We should be the global leader in solar energy.”
PolitiFact verified what a poor job Florida has done on solar, noting that as of June this year, the state had 202 megawatts of installed capacity. New Jersey – people leave Jersey to find sunshine in Florida, right? – had more than five times as much. California had 18 times as much, 3,761 MW.
The heart of the problem is that Florida at the state level has done little to encourage solar, and with generally low electricity costs over the years and other, more harmful forms of energy not having to pay for their ill effects, solar has lost out. That’s especially a shame in Florida because unlike other states, it can’t do wind – it’s a very poor wind state.
“Florida is now in the minority of states that have yet to pass a Renewable Portfolio Standard, which would encourage the growth of clean energy by requiring utilities to generate a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
PolitiFact noted that Crist tried to get an RPS in place for the state, one that would have called for 20 percent renewables by 2020 – but the legislature said no.
In July, the group Environment America put out a report that noted that Florida ranked 16th per capita in solar capacity. But that can change, according to Wayne Wallace, president of Florida Solar Energy Industries Association.
“By setting bold goals of getting 10 percent of our energy from the sun by 2030 and adopting strong policies to back up that goal, Florida can follow in the footsteps of the top solar states and start paving the way for the rest of the country,” Wallace said when that Environment America report was released. “In order to achieve this goal, we need the commitment from our state leaders to enable policies that will grow solar development in Florida.”
In any case, Crist’s pro-solar strategy makes political sense, if a recent survey by Stanford researchers is any indication – they found that 73 percent of Floridians favor tax breaks to produce renewable energy, beating nuclear (a much-talked-about option in Florida), which had just 46 percent support.