One of the principals of that group, Uwe Sterling, returned to the Bay area on Friday to talk about the formidable odds that still stand in the way of such a project opening up anytime soon. Sterling spoke at an event publicizing a planned medical facility to be built at the corner of Central Avenue and 20th Street; solar panels on its roofs of the building and an adjacent parking lot will provide enough electricity to power the building.
Sterling, who has ties to the region and visits the area twice a year, wants to build a solar power farm in St. Pete. But the startup costs are formidable (he says around $30 million), which makes it much harder for investors to commit to such a facility in Florida vs. North Carolina or New Jersey, two states that offer much more friendly incentives for solar manufacturers.
Florida's rebate program to help stimulate demand for clean energy expired two years ago, and there hasn't been any major push by legislators in Tallahassee to reinstate it.
Officials who gathered at the news conference Friday morning acknowledge how that makes creating large solar energy projects a major challenge in the ironically nicknamed Sunshine State.
Chris Steinocher, president & CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said Governor Rick Scott and members of the Legislature need to understand that "most states have [an] energy policy that's pretty cut and clear and creates investments into it." He admitted that incentives can be a "tricky subject," but said those tax credits should not be considered corporate welfare, but an investment in the future of the state.
That's why he added that he was excited about the medical facility and carport. "We want to highlight programs like this and create partnerships," he said.
Farias Marketing Group's head Mario Farias is working with Sterling to bring the solar farm to St. Pete. He says the only way to attract solar manufacturers to the region is the show the progress in other solar projects, like the medical facility at Central and 20th. "These are the type of projects that our European partners need to see."
And he had a word for the critics who think he's in a fantasy land trying to promote green energy and jobs in the Bay area. "Things are changing despite what people are going ahead and saying. Solar is not a fad. It's here to stay, and so we need to continue to work towards renewable energy and renewable energy standards, and this is one prime example."
All Florida Management is the property management company that has been working on the building for approximately three months now. Tom Hall with the company says the goal is to have the facility built by the end of June.