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Solar Energy Comes to Walton In A Big Way

October 13, 2010 by admin

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill drove home the point that counties along the Panhandle would need to diversify in order to secure economic development for their residents that were not dependent upon the tourist industry.

Two south Walton businessmen have a hot idea to encourage growth in the renewable energy market,

increase employment in the area and bring the now back in vogue, made-in-America label, to locals and Floridians statewide.

James Sumpter and Shelton S. Stone, co-founders of Energy Farm Inc., are ready to make the Sunshine State live up to its name as the new solar capital of the South. Solar is hot and in more ways than one,

“The technology is booming right now,” said Stone, “I often compare it to flat screen TV’s, whereas the first people who bought them, paid more, as the technology advanced, prices only came down. We’re coming to that point now in solar and the industry really is exploding and the prices are starting to make that downward spiral.”

Stone said the time is now to not only be embracing alternatives for energy production, but for the country to move back towards being producers, in particular, of solar equipment. “We are coming to the point, in our country, that we have a decision to make. Are we going to be consumers of this technology or are we going to step up and become not only users of solar energy, but producers as well?

As this technology emerges from our country, it gets sent to other countries to be developed because of cheaper labor.” Stone surmises that with growth in a global economy, outsourcing may be on its way out and the "made in America" label is ripe for the solar industry to embrace, here in the states.

Other countries are ahead of the game and their governments have thrown a ton of incentives their way, even in countries where the sun doesn’t shine as it does in Florida - most notably, Germany, China and Canada. “Their countries have built the infrastructure and they are ahead of us. It’s hard to find a solar module totally built in America, yet we have the materials here. We think it’s time for that to change,” said Sumpter.

The duo has been adding up the sky miles as they travel internationally. Stone notes the feeling he got when recently traveling to Japan on business. “You get this sense of energy. As we passed the factories, rows and rows of factories just driving, you can see they are producing, making things. We’d like to bring that energy and industry back home. We can’t consume our way to prosperity.”

Sumpter and Stone are looking at many ways of doing just that, with emphasis towards research and development (R&D), manufacturing with the possibility of those manufacturing jobs being in Walton and a possible energy co-op for those wanting in on solar, but not having the space or means to use solar at their homes.

One hurdle facing solar at this time is the quagmire for residents who purchased solar panels and who are still on the waiting list for the incentive refunds to come back to them. Governor Charlie Crist and Florida legislative leaders are locked in a battle over $32 million in federal funds meant for those residents and their energy saving expenditures.

Political pundits say the feud is over Crist splitting with his party, but the ones getting hit in their checkbook, are, as usual, the consumers.

It’s a great example, as Stone surmises, of how politics are getting in the way of future industry. “This is not about being green and it’s not about what political party you belong to. It’s about energy independence, it’s about security and it’s about making jobs for Americans, for Floridians, for locals.”

Florida owes $50 million in total energy refunds, according to most published reports.

Stone believes the future is right around the corner, “We are approaching the point of grid parity, where it will soon cost the same to produce renewable energy as it does to produce energy from fossil fuels. Most experts believe that we will have reached it in 10 years, I think it’s closer to five.”

Sumpter agrees, “There are so many options. We believe you’ll see multiple options in the future for us to use different types of technology for energy. But, we have to get started now.”

Once “grid parity” is reached the cost for materials and usage will only decline. The duo said the market will only grow for the technology, where and what country is cashing in on that technology will be determined by the countries that have the foresight to keep those jobs at home and the incentives to get that technology off the ground.

The "jobs at home" part entails starting out with a 74-megawatt solar plant in the Freeport area, which would be the largest in the country. A separate utility company is in discussions to take 45 of those megawatts, with the leftover wattage being discussed as a possible co-op buy-in if residents are interested.

The manufacturing that the duo wants to bring to Florida and hopefully to Walton would produce 150 jobs making solar modules. Research and development jobs are also envisioned for possible things like fusion and fuel cell technology. “Walton is our home and we want to keep it as close to home as we can. We are looking at multiple sites in Walton and in Florida,” said Stone.

“Our country was built on innovation and by being leaders in industry. We want to bring that back home and be the leaders in renewable energy and the industry behind it,” summarized Sumpter. “It’s good for business, it’s good for citizens and it’s good for America. The future of renewable energy is here and now.”

To find out more about Energy Farm, go to www. Energyfarminc.com and or call a local energy provider and ask how to get the "hook-up" to energy made in America and with beautiful Florida sunshine to boot.

Story by Alicia Leaonard, DeFuniak Herald Beach Breeze.

GRID PARITY SHOWS THE TIME IN THE FUTURE when the cost of manufacturing energy for fossil fuels meets the cost of manufacturing energy from renewable energy sources such as solar. The two intersect within the next 10 years.


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