Speaking today at an event in Sarasota, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum said that while solar energy may be a good long-term investment for Florida, “our budget is terribly tight,” so the state may have a hard time paying for some $40 million in still-unpaid solar rebates.

The rebate program was created in 2006 by the Florida legislature, but hasn’t received funding since 2008. Nearly 16,000 people are awaiting rebates they applied for under the program, which officially expired this June.

Last week, when the Florida Energy and Climate Commission provided nearly $14 million to fund a portion of the unpaid rebates, commissioner Howell Ferguson said that some people “were optimistically told they would get a rebate,” even though funds had been depleted.

In the future, Ferguson said, the state should be careful with programs that are widely publicized, to avoid perceptions of promises it may not be able to keep.

McCollum’s detailed energy plan (available in full below) only mentions solar power one time, when it says that “expensive renewable energy sources … must be subject to free market forces.”

Rick Scott, McCollum’s rival for the Republican candidacy, has not released a detailed energy plan, though he “supports expansion of nuclear power, use of alternative fuels and off-shore drilling,” according to his campaign website.

Democratic contender Alex Sink says she supports solar development in Florida, but her energy plan does not specifically address the rebate program. A campaign representative could not immediately comment on the issue.

Independent challenger Bud Chiles, the first candidate to release a detailed energy plan (.pdf), has called for “restoring the popular solar energy rebate program and providing adequate funding to meet consumer demand.”

Florida’s Energy Future – Bill McCollum for Governor

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