Clean energy charge

A group of businessmen across the state — all interested and involved in clean energy projects — flew to Washington, D.C., last week to lend their support to a Senate bill they say is a big step in reining in greenhouse gas emissions and providing new jobs.

Carl Smith, chief executive officer of Sunovia Energy Technologies of Sarasota, and Bill Johnson, president of Brilliant Harvest of Lakewood Ranch, were two local business owners talking to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, and other legislators about the need for the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act outlined in Senate Bill 1733.

The bill establishes a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions and sets goals for reducing the U.S. greenhouse emissions by 20 percent by 2020. The bill also establishes other emission goals in transportation, performance standards for new coal-fired power plants and addresses safety and performance of nuclear power plants.

“It was a good opportunity to talk about climate and energy legislation and give them our two cents worth,” Smith said.

Johnson, whose company designs, develops and operates solar energy facilities, says the bill could create more than a million jobs nationwide and allow his company to easily double or triple his five full-time employee work force.

With a loss of 8.4 million jobs in this recession, Johnson said “the only way to replace those jobs is a clean energy policy. It has the potential to change our economy” with the jobs it can create, he said.

Smith, however, is pessimistic that the bill — in light of election-year politics — has a chance of passing.

“I think it has a slim to none chance, but I’d like to believe there is hope,” he said.

Sunovia is engaged in the design and installation of LED-powered street lights and has a separate division involved in the development of solar energy products.

The 18-employee company is growing rapidly and had $1.1 million in revenue from September to December 2009. The company is doing business nationally and internationally, and Smith thinks a clean energy bill would only mean good things locally, statewide and nationally.

He admits lobbying for the legislation could be seen as self-serving.

“But I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if we didn’t need to start looking at preservation of our climate,” Smith said. “It may be selfish but it is selfish for all of us.”

Smith says he plans to start a grassroots movement to push through a clean energy bill if this one fails.

“The U.S. is starting to fall behind and by not acting, it will only get worse,” he said.

Both men think the state of Florida should be a leader in promoting solar energy.

“The state has had fits and starts with its programs,” Johnson said, pointing out that some programs have run out of money.

“This is the Sunshine State,” Smith said. “And we have very little going on with solar incentives.”