State reneges on solar rebate promise

$26 million worth of broken promises

It's become a trademark for protecting the planet and your wallet. You can't see them at night but when the sun rises, solar panels really shine.

So when the state offered consumers money back if they invested in these systems, the response was almost electric.

Then shock set in for both the state and consumers.

At the top of Kevin Minogue's modest West Palm Beach condo is a view you have to see to believe.

"Last year I only had to pay electricity two months out of the year and last month my bill was zero," said Minogue.

Kevin points his savings to 22 photovoltaic panels that are installed on his roof. Each generates electrical power by converting the sun's energy outside into electricity inside.

"I run my air conditioner, refrigerator and televisions," said Kevin.

It's green technology that isn't cheap.  Kevin's solar roof cost him nearly $30,000.

"I had taken money out of my pension to pay for the panels," he said.

But in 2006, the state made it worth his while, promising him more than half that money back through the solar energy incentives program.

"I couldn't afford it without it, no way," said Kevin.

Contact 5:   "So, you got your money from the state?"

Kevin:  "Nope, still waiting, I got half."

Contact 5:  "But they promised you $20 grand?"

Kevin:  "I don't know.  The panels work. What doesn't work is the legislature."

Archie Kloepfer's roof is also a reminder of the state's broken promise.

Contact 5: "How much did you spend on this system?

Archie: "35.  I was hoping to get 20 back."  I got ten."

Doug and Judy Boehm's were also promised money.  They, too got about half.

"They dangled a carrot and then chopped half of it away," said Judy. "It's wrong, it's wrong," she said.

The Boehm's even refinanced their home just so they could go solar without going poor.

Today they're nearly $10,000 in the hole.

"We don't have any savings." said Boehm.

As former chair of the now defunct Florida Solar Panel Commission, James Murley realized fast what a hot mess the solar rebate program had become.

"It's one of those things where you look back and you wish you'd done more. We needed more money," explained Murley who was appointed as a volunteer.

So his group turned to federal stimulus dollars just to pay down rebate promises.

The problem? New promises kept being made.

"We had no way of stopping the applications from coming in," said Murley.

Patrick Sheehan is director of the state's new Office of Energy. He was part of the team that last year, refunded the final 11 thousand solar approved consumers, roughly half of what they were originally promised.

"We probably, as a state should get a "D" for the management of this program," said Sheehan.

Contact 5: "Are they ever going to get all of their money?"

Patrick: "Well, that's a great question. I think it's fundamentally a question for the Legislature."

Contact 5: "What if legislators asked you is it worth it to find the money?"

Patrick:  "I think the answer is they need to look at it in the context of all of our energy goals."

Contact 5: "Respectfully, that sounds like a nice way of saying, put the money somewhere else."

Patrick: "Well, let me put it this way, if we were to add another $25 million, we would have spent $75 million dollars on this solar rebate program."

Kevin, Archie, Doug and Judy feel  powerless, after the state promoted a deal that got too hot to handle.

"Promises made are promises kept," said Kevin.

Archie agrees. "We're trying to make a living. Don't tell us you're going to do this and then take it away. That's wrong."

There are no plans right now to refund the remaining 11 thousand consumers the full rebate they were promised.

Consumers wishing to take action are encouraged to contact your state lawmaker in an effort to push legislation that would refund all approved solar rebate consumers the full rebates they were promised.

Click here to contact South Florida lawmakers.

Investigative Producer Lynn Walsh contributed to this story.










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