The world doesn't revolve around the sun – it's money

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, April 07, 2015 No Comment(s)

Monday’s Miami Herald had an informative piece by Eric Barton on the problems facing Florida’s solar industry. Barton, one of the most talented contributors to Gulfstream Media Group’s publications, collaborated with The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting to explain how Florida’s Legislature is thwarting efforts of the solar industry to grow in the state.

As usual, the reason is money. The article details the enormous contributions from Florida’s power companies to almost anything that moves in Tallahassee to assure that any legislation to benefit solar development goes nowhere. Since 2010, the state’s Big Four of Energy – FPL, Duke Energy, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric – have contributed $12 million to the campaigns of state lawmakers.

They give to everybody, but mostly to Republicans, and in a Legislature dominated by very conservative GOP members, the handful of legislators who want to capitalize on Florida’s natural gift – abundant sunshine to provide renewable energy  – get no movement on their bills. What they do get is pariah treatment, sometimes in an insulting manner. Barton quotes Representative Dwight Dudley (pictured above), R-St. Petersburg, on an encounter with a utility company lobbyist. Dudley was talking to an acquaintance at a function.

“Oh my gosh, do you know who this is? The devil’s holy man,” said the lobbyist. “It was loud and unpleasant,” recalled Dudley, “and it became very uncomfortable.”

This is exactly the opposite of what should happen. Good men should not be attacked. Those whose votes are bought by campaign contributions should be those suffering the boycott. Boycott, by the way, comes from the Irish land wars of the 1800s. A land agent named Charles Boycott was despised by the peasants who were losing their homes when they could not afford the rent. Instead of killing him, which they would have preferred, the people shunned him. Absolutely. No one talked to him or recognized his existence. Restaurants would not serve him. Carriage drivers would not transport him. People closed curtains on windows when he passed by.

It worked. Boycott became a sordid celebrity in the British Isles, and he could not stand it. He left Ireland, and the publicity gave momentum to the land reform movement, which ultimately regained much of the land the Irish had lost over the centuries.

The solar situation is just the latest example of money corrupting our Legislature. Big Sugar buys votes to prevent money already approved for restoring the Everglades from being spent. Any gun law opposed by the National Rifle Association has no chance, even though police departments and most Floridians favor gun control. School administrators and police are appalled by the current bill to allow guns on campuses. It makes no difference to this Legislature.

The pro-solar community is trying to get around the Legislature by means of a constitutional amendment, perhaps next year. That would likely pass. Most Floridians, at least those who vote, care about the environment. But even that is no guarantee of action. The voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to provide funds to buy land for the Everglades cleanup. But the Legislature has approved only a fraction of the money. It is obviously responding to Big Sugar dollars, now that the sugar companies have decided they don’t want to honor previous agreements.

What can we do about the arrogance of these elected officials who deny the will of the people? It is illegal in most parts of Florida to have them drawn and quartered. Maybe the Irish had the right idea.

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