The Pinellas stop began with a guided tour, taking participants from the Solar Source Headquarters in Largo to the St. Petersburg College Seminole Campus, JW Cate Recreation Center, Habitat for Humanity solar thermal homes, Suntrust Building and the Sierra Club Headquarters. Each of these locations had a standout feature that FARE hopes will become a future staple in energy efficient development.
The final stop was the Sunshine Center in St. Petersburg, which was the sight of a town hall style discussion featuring State Representative Mike Dudley, St. Petersburg Public Works Administrator Michael Connors and Karl Nurse of the St. Petersburg City Council.
After an introduction by Mayor Rick Kriseman, the discussion showcased what St. Petersburg has accomplished in the move towards more energy efficient infrastructure and what cities in general can accomplish on the matter, even when dealing with state legislatures that have an averse opinion on the issue, an understatement in Tallahassee.
According to Connors, one of the main ways that the city has managed to push through energy efficient initiatives was by emphasizing the savings the could be gained, with many projects showing a return on investment within five years. Since one of the earliest efforts, a conversion of the city's traffic lights to a more efficient bulb that paid for itself in three budget cycles, this style has been replicated in retrofitting city parking lots with parking lights, replacing city vehicles with hybrid and electric vehicles, synchronizing traffic signals (which saves fuel for drivers), and replacing city garbage truck engines to ones that run on compressed natural gas.
Nurse agreed with Connors on an emphasis on efficiency and savings developing renewable energy, while also decrying the area's inability to attract emerging energy industry, and the jobs that come with it, due to failures at the state level.
“We have been working trying to attract manufacturers to Florida, the challenge that we have is they want to know if there is a market here and do you have policies that make it work. The answer is that we have policies that work against us. What we have is an awful lot of sunshine and here in Duke Energy's territory you have the highest rates in the state, the economics are better here than they are across the Bay or across the Skyway. There are lots of energy efficient things we can do, there are lots of things we can do to add solar to our buildings, but fundamentally, we're going to be playing small ball until we get policy at the state level that gives us a level playing field.”
On a more positive note Nurse mentioned that he and Connors met with Duke Energy officials earlier in the week on the issue of bringing LED streetlights to St. Petersburg, signs of progress on an initiative that's been in talks for years.
As FARE's tour continues to Tallahassee, it will look to gain support for state legislation on efforts for efforts on the protection of Power Purchasing Agreements for independent solar power producers and Net Metering agreements for producers who sell their energy back to utility companies.