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Adam Putnam: Florida 'Well-Positioned for Renewable Energy'

October 9, 2012 - 6:00pm

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam remains high on Floridas role to grow renewable energy despite the federal indictment of a Tampa man paid by the state to harvest energy crops.

The Tampa mans company was one of two under investigation this summer that had been awarded grants as part of the 2009 federal stimulus collectively worth up to $2.5 million.

Florida continues to be well-positioned for renewable energy as technologies improve and markets mature, said Putnam, speaking Wednesday before the Economic Club of Florida at the Leon County Civic Center.

When you look at the biomass potential of North Florida with the timber industry and the year-round growing season of South Florida, not to mention things like the sun and the proximity to the Gulf Stream.

Putnams comments come on the heels of the indictment last month of William A. Vasden Jr., president of USCJO Inc., which claimed to grow fuel- and energy-producing crops.

Putnam, who backed HB 7117 in the spring which distributed more than $100 million in taxpayer subsidies to the renewable energy industry, announced in July that a Florida-based energy company that received money through President Obamas stimulus package was under investigation by state and federal officials for fraud.

At the time, Putnam did not announce the name of the company, which was one of two based in Florida awarded state and federal grants for energy development programs that were being looked at for criminal fraud by the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The fraud was uncovered as part of an operational audit conducted by the state Office of Inspector General of the grants administered by the Office of Energy, created in 1975 and moved under the state Department of Agriculture in July 2011.

Putnam said Wednesday that such fraud as was uncovered at USCJO or the California-based Solyndra, along with the discovery of a century's supply of natural gas within the United States, were reasons a chill has gone into the private investment of renewable energies.

Solyndra received a fast-tracked stimulus loan from the Obama administration in 2010, only later to declared bankruptcy.

Most of the Florida grant programs, including the federal stimulus allocations, were begun when the office was under the watch of former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Our folks did good work identifying something that didnt seem right, turned out not to be right; the FBI and U.S. attorney came up with 31 counts, Putnam said.

Putnam said the state halted pending payment on the two grants once the fraud was detected.

Vasden of USCJO, which never received any of the $500,000 grant from the Florida Energy Office, told potential investors he was from a farming family that owned more than 60,000 acres in the Sunshine State that was selling crop to consumers and the U.S. military.

Vasden requested the grant be withdrawn after the state visited the site as part of its audit.

The other company for which the state requested a federal investigation is Fernandina Beach-based ARI Green Energy Inc., which promised to build 175 jobs through solar and wind energy systems in Hamilton County.

ARI, awarded $2.5 million, received $738,401 before the state cut the tap.

The company filed for bankruptcy in March.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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