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Florida plugs more houses into the sun

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Although it carries the name of Sunshine State, Florida has been rather lackluster in the solar arena. But now a new state law, a major solar commitment by a national home builder, and aggressive action by an Orlando-area builder are sending out strong signals that the state may finally be making a backstetch bid to become the nation's solar front-runner.

Trend-setting California has long been leagues ahead of Florida in using its solar resources for more than just tourist promotions. Late last year, however, a new energy code was adopted by Florida legislators that turned the heads of alternative-energy proponents all across the United States.

Moreover, Centex Corporation, ranked by Professional Builder magazine as the nation's No. 2 builder, has committed itself to build $275 million worth of south Florida homes that will feature solar-hot-water heating as standard equipment.

Florida's solar proponents have felt that the only way the state's solar industry could experience necessary growth would be to hook solar into the building industry.

Not long ago the very idea of uniting such a liberal-sounding technology as solar with that conservative trade would likely have caused the state's op builders to double up laughing. These days, however, few builders are laughing.

The new-home market is soft, yet the solar homes are selling.

The state's model energy-efficiency code sets down requirements that make solar technology downright attractive. Thus, builders are attending state-sponsored seminars that cover solar; funnelling through the subdivisions that feature solar; and seriously considering retooling their home-building machines.

Surprisingly, New York and New Jersey are the second- and third-ranking states in terms of solar activity, according to Shirley Hayes of the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association. She and other energy experts feel the state has not felt the fuel pinch to the degree of many of the other states and therefore has been sluggish in supporting solar.

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