elizabeth-tetreault_web.jpgAmerica’s dialogue about clean energy took center stage last month when President Obama traveled to Arcadia, Florida to showcase FPL’s DeSoto Solar Energy Center. It is currently the largest solar photovoltaic power plant in the country.

Comparing this project to the building of the interstate highway system, Obama at the time said, “Now, it's time to make the same kind of investment in the way our energy travels — to build a clean energy superhighway that can take the renewable power generated in places like DeSoto and deliver it directly to the American people in the most affordable and efficient way possible.”

At the same time, 3,000 miles away, the Solar Power International 2009 Convention was taking place in Anaheim, California. This year’s event, the largest in its six-year history, attracted over 23,000 participants and more than 900 exhibitors. On display were products that collect, store, transmit, and change light and heat from the sun into electricity or hot water.

In addition, panelists from companies such as Suntech, Sharp, First Solar and GroSolar discussed the future of solar power to boost our economy and provide green, clean American jobs. Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, presented a “Solar Bill of Rights” and told of provisions in the stimulus package that were expected to create over 100,000 solar jobs in the next few years.

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis explained how 11 departments and agencies, and six White House offices worked to develop ideas to reduce energy costs for homeowners, to provide training for workers and support for entrepreneurs.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., named as one of Time Magazine’s “Heroes of the Planet,” said to the audience, “You”ll hear people say that we have to choose between environmental protection on the one hand and economic prosperity on the other, and that is a false choice. In 100 percent of the situations, good environmental policy is identical to good economic policy.”

Kennedy also spoke about the hidden subsidies and health costs of the oil, nuclear and coal industries, to the tune of more than $1 trillion each year, and contrasted that to the economic advantages to the taxpayer as we switch to solar and wind energy.

Other keynote speakers were Ed Bagley Jr., actor and environmental activist since the 1970s, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who served as secretary of energy under former President Bill Clinton.

Although Florida, nicknamed the Sunshine State, produces less than 4 percent of its energy from renewable resources, Gainesville Regional Utilities presented information about its new program, which allows solar power users to sell their excess electricity to the utility at above-market rates. Hopefully, this effort and FPL’s high-profile solar plant will spur more interest among Florida’s citizens and politicians.

There was one glaring element missing from the country’s largest Solar Convention…..adequate representation from the African-American and Caribbean communities. This provides a terrific opportunity for entrepreneurs and employees, as programs become available for training and financing in the next few months.

Elizabeth Tetreault owns a global marketing and consulting business, and was part of the grassroots efforts in Florida to elect President Obama.