Solar Energy Debate a Hot Topic in Coming Election

By: Troy Kinsey Email
By: Troy Kinsey Email

Tallahassee, FL -
Green energy advocates say the Sunshine State is in a unique position to become a solar panel state.

However, the question is how to pay for it.

The issue has now found its way into the race for agricultural commissioner, with the Democratic candidate calling his rival a “hypocrite.”

At Mark Schwartz's Bella Bella Italian restaurant, succulent marinara sauce isn't the only thing you'll find cooking.

Up top, a solar panel array is cooking under the hot Florida sun.

It's saving Schwartz money on his power bill, but not enough to justify the $120,000 it took to install it.

“We took personal loans to actually get the system, and if we could get some of that money back to pay those loans down, it would make the system a lot more affordable and make more sense,” Schwartz said.

When Schwartz bought the array, he expected to get a big check from Florida’s solar panel rebate program.

The problem is state leaders are refusing to release federal dollars intended to fund the program.

The sun may be shining down on a growing number of solar panels.

But, the program's critics complain it has yet to illuminate an increasingly ineffective government.

For them, the 2010 campaign is a call to action.

On Thursday, Scott Maddox, a Democrat running for agriculture commissioner, took aim at his opponent, Bartow Congressman Adam Putnam.

Maddox said Putnam is campaigning on green energy, but voted no on the rebate program.

“He could go to the speaker,” Maddox said. “He could talk to the speaker. He could say 'release these dollars.' But he's not going to do that. He'd rather just campaign, saying he's for solar. He's never been for it!”

In a statement responding to Maddox’s attack, Putnam said, “My record of support for alternative and renewable energy technologies is clear, and dates back years before the home stretch of a statewide campaign.”

Putnam points to votes in favor of biofuel development and solar energy research.

“I figured it would be a slow process, but I did not think it would never come in,” Schwartz said.

Now, rays of hope have turned to clouds of frustration with Election Day looming.

The federal funding for the solar panel rebate program was built into last year's economic stimulus package. It was a package Putnam voted against because of its size.

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