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Nancy Smith

Charlie Crist's Hyperbolicious Solar Flair

April 27, 2014 - 6:00pm

Charlie Crist can't stop telling his audience what they want to hear, even when it's so full of baloney he should pass out napkins first.

He's done it on everything from education to cuts in Medicare Advantage, to the most recent hyperbolicious humbug, the promise "to clean up Florida by going more solar" and to make the Sunshine State "the global example of solar energy on the planet."

(Click on this YouTube video, produced in Tallahassee at an April 10 event on behalf of the solar-energy industry.)

It's what Charlie means when he says he's "for the people:" You tell me what you want, I'll promise to deliver.

Unfortunately, there's always -- really, it is always -- a yawning credibility gap, because it never comes with an explanation of how he's going to make it work.

Crist has quite a flair for solar speeches ... well, this one, anyway ... and that's what makes it particularly bothersome. He had his knuckles rapped for making the same errant speech late last year.

Appearing on MSNBCs "The Ed Show," gubernatorial candidate Crist -- a new Democrat running to get back the job he had as a Republican -- said, Were the Sunshine State, and were hardly doing any solar energy production. We should be the global leader in solar energy.

PolitiFact Florida, an arm of the liberal Tampa Bay Times, which claims to give voters an assessment on the honesty of politicians, decided to fact check Crists seemingly subjective policy assessment.Unsurprisingly,it gave his statement a "mostly true" rating for saying Florida is hardly doing any solar energy production.

But, right after, along came Media Trackers, a conservative website dedicated to media accountability, government transparency, and fact-based journalism, to take a closer look. Its review of the facts gives Crist and PolitiFact Florida jointly a pants on fire -- a liar's rating -- for Crists claim and PolitiFact Floridas ruling.

This all happened last December. Since then, Crist has been presented with no end of expert information -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- on renewable energy reality in Florida.

Either he isn't listening, or he's pandering for votes. I'm going with pandering.

In the first place, the sun doesn't come up "every single day" in Florida, as Crist purports.Turns out Florida is "the Sunshine State" for the same reason six different towns in coastal Florida call themselves "the Sailfish Capital." Can you think of better advertising for a tourist state?

But the truth is, Florida doesn't have the solar potential PolitiFact claims: It's not third in sunshine nationally, it's tied for ninth with Utah and Kansas. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory makes us "above average but not outstanding," claiming we spend 66 percent of our days in sunshine, as compared, say, to the 86 percent of sunny days Arizonans enjoy. So, no, Florida shouldn't be "the global leader in solar energy."

Worst of all is Crist's mischaracterization of present-day Florida as a state doing nothing to further solar energy for the future. Florida has a $100 million tax subsidy program -- we give money back to electricity customers -- for installing solar and clean-energy upgrades.According to the NREL and Optimal Deployment of Solar rankings for solar power potential, Florida is producing proportionally more solar power than it should be.

In his Tallahassee speech, Crist quoted Elon Musk, developer of the Tesla car and SolarCity, as if Musk is the solar success story Florida should emulate. But to many, he is a poor role model. Musk's California-based solar energy firm SolarCity, backed by hundreds of millions in federal grants and loans, posted $55 million in losses during 2013 and it's running a deficit of more than $166 million, according to an annual financial report released in March.

Some Floridians see SolarCity and think about the $500 million hit taxpayers took from the Solyndra solar company. Green energy is still trying to overcome that sour taste.

Encouraging solar is, as Charlie Crist claims, an important part of Florida's renewable energy future. But in a state where right now high-electricity-production solar energy costs 30 cents per kilowatt, and the per-kw cost of biomass is only 7 cents -- achieving a 20 percent conversion to renewable energy will take higher consumer prices and far greater subsidies.

If Crist wins in November, watch him back away from his solar promise. The same ratepayers cheering for his speech today would be going for his throat tomorrow when the cost of electricity skyrockets. And he knows it.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-242.

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