By WAYNE WALLACE | Special To The Tampa Tribune Published: October 10, 2012
As a solar contractor, I was dismayed to hear disparaging comments about green energy during the Denver debate. I'd like to set the record straight.
Let's be honest: We are not dealing with a level playing field. Oil companies have enjoyed rich subsidies for more than 100 years. The first coal subsidy dates back to the late 1700s.
Mitt Romney's statement, "In one year, you provided $90 billion in breaks to the green energy world… that's about 50 years' worth of what oil and gas receives," is false. Actually, the clean energy investment took place over several years. The tax breaks that oil companies receive are different from the loan guarantees, grants and R&D provided through the stimulus. Only a portion of the money went to solar and wind; it was also used for energy efficiency, environmental cleanup and improvements to our power lines. Unlike tax breaks for oil companies, the loan guarantees are repaid with interest. In fact, Tesla just announced they would be making their payment early. Fact-checkers quickly refuted the claim that "about half" of the companies receiving those funds "went out of business." In fact, the number is less than 1 percent. Romney's camp was quick to correct his statement.
No doubt, Solyndra gave the solar industry a black eye. Solyndra failed because their business model depended on expensive solar. Their experimental thin-film product in no way resembles the standard rigid crystalline panels one sees being installed all over the world. Solyndra is not representative of even a small percentage of the solar industry.
In the 36 states that have set goals for efficiency and renewables, the solar industry is booming: creating jobs and developing affordable energy solutions. Florida needs to establish a long-term energy plan that will become an economic driver and job creator.
The good news is that the price of solar has plummeted. One of my St. Petersburg customers saw the estimate for his 12-panel solar rooftop system drop 30 percent in just 18 months. According to an April 2012 report, "Beyond Boom & Bust," from 2007 to 2010 prices for clean energy technologies fell, while employment in clean tech sectors expanded by almost 12 percent, adding more than 70,000 jobs.
Political candidates should recognize that the public wants more solar power. Hart Research Associates found that more than nine out of 10 likely voters think the United States should use more solar energy. This support was strong regardless of party affiliation, with 84 percent of Republicans, 95 percent of independents and 98 percent of Democrats agree-ing. According to the poll, voters would like to see the federal government do more to foster the solar industry.
If we wanted a truly level playing field, we would have to remove all subsidies for all fuels, and incorporate all costs into all fuels, including the cost of pollution.
In Florida, we need to enable a free market and end the utility monopoly. In the Sunshine State, investor-owned utilities have a vice grip on the state Legislature. It's impossible for Floridians to lease solar power from a third party because only utilities can sell electricity. Customers should have the freedom to buy power from whomever they want.
Florida imports all of the fossil fuels we use to produce electricity, which means we send more than $15 billion out of state every year to buy dirty fuels. Imagine how many jobs we could create if we invested just 20 percent of that in efficiency and renewables. Producing clean energy locally will save Florida families and businesses money, create the jobs we need and improve our air quality. Policies that promote energy efficiency and renewables will bring private investment capital here, and the jobs will follow.
I am proud of my nearly 30-year-old solar contracting business and the high-quality solar panels and hot water systems that we have installed for thousands of Floridians. In every industry, there are companies that fail, but you don't stop eating because one restaurant closed. The assertion that solar hasn't worked and companies are closing is simply not true.
Remember, fossil fuels are a finite resource. As supply goes down, prices will go up. Meanwhile, the price of renewable energy — solar in particular — is declining at a breathtaking rate. I will not stand by and allow my industry to be demonized without putting up a fight.