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July 23,2014 - July 23, 2014 - Florida Must Face Future and Think Solar
The News-Press

Re: “Solar power too costly for taxpayers,” A. John Birkle, July 17. It goes without saying that Mr. Birkle’s strong opinion about the cost of solar energy and about Babcock Ranch trying to maintain its right to run its own electric utility was shaped from a career spent in the fossil fuel based utility industry.

To be upfront about where I stand on the Babcock issue, I proudly lay claim to the fact that utilizing solar energy as the primary energy to create electricity for the new Babcock Ranch community was an idea I brought to the planning table while working for Syd Kitson. Since the economic downturn in 2007, I no longer work there nor do I work in the solar industry.

Mr. Birkle told the story that’s all too common among utility and fossil fuel proponents: Clean, limitless solar power is “too costly for taxpayers.” Moreover, Lee County Electric Cooperative and its allies view Mr. Kitson’s dream of a “Solar City” as bad policy and potentially bad for consumers because it disrupts the long-term vision of existing utilities, which is to preserve their 100-year old monopoly.

We’ve all heard for years the arguments that solar power is unfair to consumers and that the U.S. will start to look like Germany. But let’s look at the facts:

First and foremost, subsidies for the fossil fuel industry outspend solar power 14 to 1 ($409 billion vs. $60 billion) so to claim solar energy is oversubsidized is just plain false.

Secondly, to Mr. Birkle’s warning that U.S. investment in renewable technologies will cause a collapse of utilities similar to that of Germany’s, yes, Germany’s utilities are in decline. From Germany to Florida, solar power is a threat to the utility model, not because of subsidies for clean technology, but because utilities are unwilling to innovate in changing times.

Meanwhile, solar energy is employing people 10 times higher than the national employment growth of the economy. Solar power is good for job growth and good for the economy. Solar power provides local jobs. Local energy equals local jobs.

It is vitally important that Babcock Ranch set precedent in creating its own utility based on clean solar energy so we can continue to grow Florida’s economy.

Programs, such as the federal Investment Tax Credit, net metering, and other solar-friendly policies are merely an investment made by the government to grow an industry. It is a fact that solar energy creates jobs and it is a fact that solar electric (prices have fallen 50 percent since 2010. Based on that, it is a fact that the solar industry is making good on its investment.

California, with some of the nation’s most aggressive pro-solar policies, has now installed more solar in the last 18 months than the last 18 years combined. And it is now operating in a virtually rebate-free market as the rebate money from its $3.2 billion investment (Million Solar Roofs Initiative) has basically all been used.

And the growth isn’t stopping. California now employs more solar workers than its three major investor-owned utilities combined and there are no projections of this slowing down anytime soon. This growth would not have been possible unless policymakers made investing in solar energy a priority.

It’s time the Sunshine State realize its bright future. Babcock Ranch has the ability to set precedent and the PSC and LCEC should not stand in the way. The News Press aptly closed its story, “Sparks fly in Babcock Ranch power struggle,” July 14, by quoting Syd Kitson: “It’s important the Babcock project come to fruition because business models like it are vital to the industry and the planet’s environmental health.”

So true.

We see time and time again throughout history and the natural world that it is those who adapt to changing times — those who innovate — that will succeed and survive. Solar power is the technology of the future, and it’s up to the state of Florida and its local municipalities to make way for this clean energy future. Florida is at a crossroads between business as usual and embracing this future and getting ahead of the curve. What would you choose?

Carol Newcomb, an ecological literacy educator, taught at FGCU for 17 years (1997-2014). She lives in Fort Myers.

© The News-Press

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