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Will the GOP Notice Florida's Thriving Clean Economy?

J. Mijin Cha

When voters go to the polls in Florida tomorrow for the GOP Presidential primary, the economy and jobs will weigh heavily on their minds and rightfully so. The state’s unemployment rate is close to 10 percent, down from a peak 12 percent in 2010, and the state was hit hard by the housing market crash. Florida voters are looking to the GOP presidential candidates for relief and the message they should send is: It’s the (clean) economy, stupid.

Florida ranks seventh in the nation in the number of clean energy jobs. It outpaced the national growth rate for clean economy job creation and the sector saw a growth of 4.7 percent every year from 2003-2010. Over 65 percent of the clean energy jobs in Florida are good paying “green collar” jobs. The annual median wage for clean energy jobs is $4000 above the median wage for other jobs.

And, the star in Florida’s clean economy is solar energy. Gainesville, Florida was one of the first municipalities to pass a feed-in-tariff. The program is so successful that is now oversubscribed and new applications will not be accepted until January 2013. In just three years, Gainesville has passed California in solar production per capita, even though California has offered solar incentives for over a decade. Florida is also home to the first solar powered city and three solar power plants were launched in 2009 and 2010 making Florida the second largest supplier of utility-scale solar power in the country.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like any of the GOP candidates are particularly interested in supporting a thriving industry and known job-creator. Most of the candidates’ rhetoric, as well as President Obama’s, revolves around increasing off-shore drilling, even though clean energy investment creates three times the number of jobs per investment than fossil fuels and Florida will suffer continued negative economic consequences from the Deep Horizon offshore drilling accident.

With the news that renewable energy deals hit a record high of $53.5 billion in 2011, an increase of 40 percent from 2010, it is clear that renewables are the way of the future. Renewable energy development will move ahead with or without us. How long do we have to wait for our politicians and lawmakers to wake up to this reality?