Here's a question for you. Which state has created more jobs in the booming solar business: Massachusetts or Florida?
If you picked the Sunshine State, you'd be wrong, remarkably enough.
According to the first-of-its kind clean energy jobs survey for Florida that was just released by my group, only about 11,000 Floridians work in solar and other forms of renewable energy. That's far fewer than many states, including much-smaller Massachusetts, where 13,000 residents work in solar and other renewable businesses. You can see Environmental Entrepreneurs' (E2's) "Clean Jobs Florida" report at cleanjobsflorida.com.
Of course the sun doesn't shine any brighter in New England than it does in Florida. In fact, the state is No. 3 in the country in solar potential. It could easily generate more than 25 times the amount of energy it uses if only it tapped into the power of the sun. Instead of lagging behind relatively little states like Massachusetts, Florida ought to be neck-in-neck with big Sunbelt states like California, Arizona and Nevada when it comes to deploying solar energy.
It's not that Florida's clean energy sector isn't a substantial employer -- one that state leaders should support. According to E2's new "Clean Jobs Florida" report, more than 130,000 Floridians work at 14,000 clean energy companies. About 75 percent of those jobs are in energy efficiency; only about 9 percent are in solar and renewable energy.
Those might seem like big numbers, but the simple truth is, Florida is a state that's not living up to its potential. It's being left in the dust when it comes to clean energy - and the jobs, economic growth and energy savings that come with it. On a per capita basis, only about 1.5 percent of Florida's workforce works in clean energy. Even in much smaller states like Massachusetts or Vermont, the percentage is substantially higher.
So what's wrong with the Sunshine State?
It comes down to a lack of good policies and leadership on clean energy.
Twenty-nine states, stretching from California to Massachusetts, now have commonsense standards that require utilities to get a portion of their power from renewable sources.
But not Florida.
About 20 states now have basic energy efficiency standards designed to make homes, office buildings and homes smarter, saving electricity and money.
At least 22 states now allow solar companies to lease solar panels and sell electricity directly to homeowners and businesses instead of letting utilities have a monopoly over the energy business.
If any state should be encouraging clean energy growth, it ought to be Florida (which happened to be my home for nearly a decade).
Despite its abundance of sunshine and lack of coal, Florida is the fifth-most coal dependent state in the country. In 2012 alone, Floridians spent nearly $50 billion on fossil fuels imported from other states. At the same time, Floridians spend more on electricity than residents of any other state besides Texas. Each year, Floridians spend about 40 percent more on electricity than the national average.
The good news is, Florida now it has a solid blueprint on which to build a clean energy future -- and the impetus to do so.
Under the federal Clean Power Plan, Florida must reduce carbon pollution emissions from existing power plants by about 37 percent by 2030. The best way to do that is by increasing renewable energy and reducing wasted electricity through smart energy efficiency standards.
The other good news is that Florida also has a solid foundation on which to build and create opportunities for its workers.
In addition to providing jobs for 130,000 hard-working Floridians already, clean energy companies are eager to grow and create new jobs. According to our survey, about 35 percent of clean energy businesses are projected to add about 12,000 new jobs over the next year.
But clean energy companies surveyed said they're also desperate for their state leaders to enact policies that will let them live up to their potential. Taxes, government policy and business costs were the three most frequently cited barriers for growth among respondents, with regulations and lack of funding or incentives following closely behind.
Wind Turbine & Energy Cables Corp., or WTEC, exemplifies the problems clean energy companies face in Florida.
The wind and solar supply company is based in Tampa and has a manufacturing plant in Pensacola. But almost all of its business comes from other states. According to WTEC corporate counsel Chris Delp, the lack of good clean energy policies has kept real economic growth and clean energy job creation from occurring in his state.
"At best, Floridians are getting merely a trickling byproduct of other states' modern renewable energy practices," Delp said, "when instead the Sunshine State should be leading the country in renewable energy jobs."