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Putnam energy audit finds millions in taxpayer waste

Florida misspent millions of federal and state dollars intended to grow the energy sector, according to an audit by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The audit is among the first steps by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam to bring stricter measurement and oversight to the Office of Energy, which, he said, has been plagued for decades by bad leadership.

The Governor's Office handed Putnam a mess when the Legislature shifted the Office of Energy to the Department of Agriculture in July of 2011, Putnam said at a Tuesday press conference.

An inspector general investigation immediately identified $2.5 million in fraud by two companies. And thousands of people were still waiting on their solar rebates.

"We inherited a pile of clothes hangers," he said. "It was a disaster."

The state manages five grant programs and four rebate programs that fund $219.7 million in projects--from university research to rebates for homeowners who upgrade their air conditioning systems and buy energy-efficient appliances.

Since the Office of Energy's creation in 1975, it bounced from agency to agency, and suffered a "complete absence of leadership," Putnam said.

The Governor's Office, which managed the program most recently, failed to monitor projects, document return on investment or properly train staff, Putnam said.

"If you're administering 200 million in grant money, you should have adequate training," he added. Of the 176 grants disbursed by the state, Putnam's office is terminating, or is in the process of terminating 32 that defrauded the state or did not produce results.

Grant holders are now expected to thoroughly document their work and submit to regular on-site visits, he said.

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Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda

Let's begin a robust energy conversation:
Energy is fundamental to the way we do business, to our economy and our way of life. We are on the cusp of a new era of energy use, distribution, and production. Much like other eras in human history of super charged growth and change, some old industries and business models are highly threatened by change and seek to keep the status quo. Think about the conversations the buggy whip manufacturers must have had as the automobile burst on the scene, or candle makers when the lightbulb was invented. Distributed energy, like solar or wind, non-foodstock biodiesel and wave and tidal energy as well as other renewable sources, has had a hard time gaining a competitive toe hold in the energy sector because any kind of distributed, truly renewable energy production directly competes with utility companies that have enjoyed government and customer subsidies and a guaranteed rate of return. Every watt that is created or saved by the customers of any utility company, whether regulated or municipal, is a watt that cannot be sold for profit or revenue or somehow fit into a positive bottom line. For instance, if you have solar panels on your rooftop that are producing energy, or are being very savvy about energy conservation and efficiency, you are directly biting into the profit margin of utility companies at best or at least causing them to be a little less in control of our energy future and their profits. Just take a look at some of the riders for net metering that limit the production of solar power by customers. Utility companies do not want a critical mass of distributed energy, energy created by what are now their customers, to succeed on a competitive scale. It is, then, up to the rest of us to put on our critical thinking hats and take our blinders off to see what is best for the nation, the state, our communities and our families. If we have to take a long hard look at how utility companies continue to do business in this new era, then that's our job as leaders, educated citizens, business women and men, and folks who have to take care of our families. We have our own personal interests to be concerned with but also we must concern ourselves with the longterm health of our nation and state.

Fraud and dishonesty and taking people's money and not giving fair value in return is never good. If Commissioner Putnam found dishonesty and fraud in the energy sector, I applaud his efforts and results. My hope is that he will continue to work to find deceit, fraud, mismanagement, and dishonesty and make sure that our energy policy reflects what is good for the whole state, from the most modest customer to the largest of industrial or corporate users. My hope is that we can all work together to modernize Florida's approach to energy, conservation and efficiency and be globally competitive. We must encourage a growing and truly innovative economy, growing jobs, while keeping our environment safe and also beautiful for ourselves and future generations.


Our society is too narrow minded to see the long term benefits of renewable energy. The high upfront cost scares people away because they don't realize the long term benefits.

If a small family is averaging a $200 monthly electric bill that works out to $2,400 per year. That family would be better served to purchase a solar system and use that $2,400 to own their energy production. After 15 to 20 years they've paid the system off and they're laughing at neighbors. Its just like renting a home versus owning one. This doesn't factor in escalating energy prices which is above inflation.

I read somewhere that some Florida lawmakers don't believe solar is a viable option in the state because it can get cloudy... Really? The sunshine state? New Jersey has way more solar than Florida is much less sunny.

Saudi Arabia, the worlds largest oil producer is investing 109 billion dollars into solar in an effort to produce 1/3rd of the countries energy needs by 2032. Then they can sell more oil and spend less on energy internally. Long term thinking... that's what we need.

Hopefully Putnam can put the remaining funds to good use. We need it.

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