Editorial: Solar energy ... presidential spotlight points to opportunity

President Barack Obama chose the right place to showcase clean, renewable energy projects and announce a federal funding partnership program to help build more.

His visit to Arcadia and one of Florida Power & Light’s three new solar farms in Florida comes the same week the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center is to flip the switch to “on.”

Not only will the more than 90,000 solar panels weighing nearly a ton-and-a-half apiece generate enough power for 3,000 homes annually, the sprawling facility — amid other kinds of farms — will produce zero pollution in the process. Burning less oil, which is good for various reasons, puts Florida near the front of this clean-energy movement that also includes making fuel from Sunshine State crops.

The project packs a big punch in a small town.

Although a local U.S. House member, Republican Connie Mack IV of Fort Myers, bemoaned Obama’s visit as more spending and politicking, the Arcadia plant is light years better than an FPL endeavor of only two years ago — a coal-burning power plant in the heart of the Everglades.

Perhaps the Obama visit in politically supercharged Florida will have a ripple effect and prod the state Legislature to take the next step and develop energy-pricing policies that allow private producers to make a profit from more than a base level of solar.

The $3.4 billion in federal money — including $267 million for more sun farms and support technology in Florida — is to be matched and leveraged into $8 billion for projects in 49 states.

Southwest Floridians are eager to hear more about how the Arcadia area used Immokalee-style enterprise-zone and other tax incentives to land this deal. The economic impacts, befitting the federal stimulus goal, come up front in construction rather than in long-term operations. DeSoto County reported its solar center drove 400 jobs, and another FPL site, in Martin County, put 700 people to work. For the long haul, efficiency again is the buzz word, with the DeSoto and Martin centers employing five and 12 people respectively.

The major benefit, FPL says, comes in the form of cleaner, more affordable energy indefinitely.

The DeSoto sun site is not alone in our area. It joins 16 acres of on-campus panels about to go online at Florida Gulf Coast University as a power as well as academic tool. In Charlotte County, an entire solar-powered community, Babcock Ranch, is in the works.

Only eight months ago, the president came to Fort Myers for a town-hall meeting because of our economic plight.

This visit focused on light.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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