Study: Florida is clean and green

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor applauded Monday the findings of a newly released survey by the Pew Charitable Trust that shows Florida among the states leading the charge in clean energy development.

“It really provides a glimpse of what our jobs future could be in Florida,” the Democrat from Tampa said. “This is the way we’re going to rebuild our economy in the state of Florida because these are good-paying jobs for people of all skill levels and diverse educational backgrounds. The salaries range anywhere from $20,000 to more than $100,000 and we’re talking about the engineers, the electricians, the folks who are going to be doing the weatherization to save consumers money, roofers, you name it — even marketing consultants.”

During a media conference call, Lori Grange of Pew outlined the finding of the national study, the first hard number accounting of clean energy jobs. The Pew Charitable Trust defined clean energy jobs as those in sectors pertaining to energy conservation, pollution mitigation and energy efficiency.

The study found that Florida’s clean energy economy grew by 7.9 percent between 1998 and 2007.

Florida had the sixth largest number of jobs in the clean energy economy in 2007 — a total of 31,100 workers. That was twice the national average for states of 15,100 jobs, Grange said.

The results of the survey did not surprise Kristen Watson, marketing manager for Sunovia Energy Technologies in Sarasota, a company that manufacturers solar systems and energy-efficient lighting.

Watson said the potential for green jobs is greater than many people realize.

“A lot of people think of green jobs as the person who installs the solar panels on the rooftop but it’s way beyond that,” Watson said. “You have the engineers, the installers, the salespeople. As a solar startup, we really do hope to be on the cutting edge of that. We’re growing slowing, but steadily, and we’re encouraged by the administration’s commitment to clean energy.”

Sunovia is currently doing a solar installation that will feed a power grid in the Dominican Republic, Watson said.

The company employs roughly 15 workers locally and also has a laboratory in Chicago, she said.

“I can say with extreme confidence that if I had a kid in college, I would tell them to get a business degree with a minor in environmental studies,” Watson said. “I think that’s the future that the economy is heading in.”

Victor Eyal, president of Heliocol, a solar system manufacturer in Altamonte Springs, said the opportunities in clean energy are boundless.

“I’ve been in the solar industry since 1981 and saw it go through cycles,” Eyal said. “But what’s happening in this decade is fantastic.”

Eyal said his company has about 40,000 square feet of warehouse space and 40 employees. The company also has five distribution centers throughout the nation.

John DiBella, president of Enviro Voraxial Technology, which manufactures a piece of equipment called a Voraxial separator that uses centrifugal force to purify water, said the Ft. Lauderdale company has customers in the mining, marine and oil cleanup industries.

“Within the oil and gas market, the market itself is amazingly large,” he said. “It is estimated that over 77 billion barrels of wastewater is generated each year in the oil and gas market. That large volume of wastewater is very difficult to handle. And that’s what brings the interest of the customers to the Voraxial.”

DiBella said he currently has six employees but is looking to another 12 workers within the next year.

Grange, of the Pew Charitable Trust, said Florida, along with the rest of the nation, is “poised for explosive growth” in clean energy business because nearly $85 billion in transportation and energy-related spending for clean energy is included in the federal stimulus bill.

Castor, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said she is waiting for the full House to consider draft legislation the committee presented on clean energy. She expects a decision by August.

She said the Pew Charitable Trust survey provided more ammunition for the bill.

“It’s the first of its kind. It takes an actual tally of clean energy jobs and investments in Florida,” Castor said. “And the numbers are impressive. I wish I had these numbers available back when we were debating the bill, but they will come in very handy as we move the bill forward.”