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MARCO ISLAND — Marco Island’s solar project plans didn’t make the short list of energy projects worthy of Florida dollars according to discussions by the Florida Energy and Climate Commission Monday morning.
Two Island solar proposals by the Marco-based firm United Energy Technology and Collier County School District Superintendent Dennis Thompson were not approved for $3.2 million in grant requests.
UET CEO Gary Elliott said he watched the meeting “live from Tallahassee” via the Web and believed he understood why the solar project on the Marco Island Charter Middle School’s roof and the solar plant to be ground mounted on four of the approximate 12-acres on Island along Tigertail Court, known as Tract K, didn’t make the short list of 20 projects to be discussed at the meeting.
Several of the other projects included contributions from the grant requestor greater than UET’s. UET was requesting about $3.2 million in grants for both projects and contributing a little more than $6 million for the projects.
Elliott said after listening to the presenters live on the Web, he learned some of the grants were for projects that created 100s of jobs, including one which created 26,500 jobs with a grant request of $1.5 million.
“I can see where the commissioners were coming from in today’s environment. For our projects, there were no jobs created once the work was up there,” Elliott said.
Several Islanders said they weren’t disappointed to learn the projects weren’t funded.
“The Commission made the right decision. MICA’s position is and will continue to be that Tract K is no place for a solar farm,” Howard Jordan, President of the Marco Island Civic Association, wrote in an e-mail to the Eagle Monday afternoon.
MICA board of directors sent a letter to their several thousand members asking that they let their voice be heard as the Governor Charlie Crist’s Florida Energy and Climate Commission selected 20 of the most worthy projects out of about 450 applicants.
“We estimate our (MICA) members sent over 2000 letters. I would assume the state took the letters into consideration,” Jordan wrote.
He added that the Island’s “dedicated, intelligent” property owners made the difference.
McMullan said it’s not a matter of being “anti-green.”
“MICA is not anti solar. The issue in front of us was Tract K. The land is too valuable a resource and belongs to the citizens of Marco. Hopefully the School Board and our city will figure that out sooner rather than later,” Jordan said.
Many Islanders have taken issue with the solar plan because they believe the property was set aside strictly for a school. So much so, that a committee was formed to look into the idea of a high school after the public learned of the proposal.
Paul Tateo, a resident who helped create the charter middle school, said he does not personally support the concept of a Charter High School on Marco.
“Tract K belongs to the school district and we need to respect their right to decide and propose uses for it if we respect property rights. Which I do,” Tateo wrote in an e-mail to the Eagle.
“If developed for other than a school, to me as a Marco taxpayer, it makes sense to consider a public/private venture where the private sector project or profit helps fund at low or no cost a public benefit such as a park,” he added.
Another challenge in developing Tract K is the American Bald Eagles nesting on a tree centrally located on the lot. City Environmental Specialist Nancy Richie has left about a 330-foot circumference of grass around the tree unmowed to mark the current laws against developing within range of an active American Bald Eagle’s nest.
McMullan said he found the process of publicly sharing ideas about Tract K’s solar proposal “shady.”
“A solar project on the Charter School is a great idea, but it should be handled above board with a public bid,” McMullan said.
Elliott said this is the end of the line for his solar project proposals for Tract K, but UET will likely continue forward with the solar project at Marco Island Charter Middle School by seeking other sources of money. Other solar projects are also in the works for Island properties, he said.
Representatives from the Governor Crist’s press office were not available to answer questions about the FECC’s decisions .