There was an uprising at the Florida Capitol Thursday. Not long after the sun rose over the building, those advocating more support for solar power followed suit. But it wasn’t long before the event turned political.
It looked and felt like spring break does in some Florida locales. Young people dancing to live music, event organizers handing out dark glasses with a sun emblem on them and even dolphins – although the dolphins were metal and rooted to a Florida Capitol fountain. It was a pep rally for the sun, which shone brightly overhead. As if to convey the ferocity of their message, organizers even gave the assembly a slightly ominous name: Solar Uprising.
Leading the chant was Stephen Smith, the director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
“North Carolina has four times more solar deployed than the state of Florida and it’s a smaller state with less resource," Smith says. "Florida has fallen to number 18 in the last quarter of last year with installed solar.”
As if to aggravate that sunburn, Debbie Dooley, a member of the Georgia Tea Party and a partner conservative environmental group called the Green Tea Coalition, took the microphone.
“I bring you greetings from the sunshine state of Georgia. That’s right – the sunshine state of Georgia," she reiterated. "If Florida stays on the same path, they’re no longer going to be known as the Sunshine State, because they are trying to shut the sun out.”
Dooley cast herself as an outsider in the partisan crowd waiting to hear from Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist. She says she likes Governor Rick Scott, but thinks perhaps he’s suffering from a case of sun blindness. She says her group views solar expansion as a free market principle.
“If you care about energy freedom and energy choice, join me. And I want the conservatives to join forces and let’s lead the way on energy freedom in Florida,” Dooley says.
Speakers repeatedly pointed to the 22-story building behind them and chastised Governor Scott and the Legislature for shuttering solar energy incentives. Justin Vanderbroeck, a member of the student-led group Ideas for Us, told the crowd those policies are costing the state jobs and young minds, including his own.
“I want to let you I’m proud to be the last man standing of a solar energy company that started here in Tallahassee and installed over 100 systems within a five-mile radius of where we’re standing right now," he says. "The rest of my company – they’re no longer in Florida because we do not have the market that attracts their investments.”
Vanderbroeck is off to California next month to work for a solar firm there. While he’s leaving, someone who’s trying to make a comeback is Crist. While he failed to make any specific promises about how he’d help Florida better capture the solar energy present in the crowd, he didn’t waste the chance to cast his opponent as raining on the state’s parade.
“There is a cloud blocking the sun from coming in and his name is Rick Scott. We’ve got to stop Scott,” the former governor says.
That led Stephen Smith to propose an additional qualification to become the state’s chief executive.
“New rule: you cannot be the governor of the Sunshine State if you do not support solar power,” Smith says.
Though several of the speakers alleged the state’s utility companies fill the coffers of those lawmakers uncommitted to renewable energy, it’s worth noting there are programs offered by those companies which incentivize solar panel installation. But it’s also worth noting one from Florida Power and Light was so popular there’s a waiting list stretching into next year.