Even as legislators seek to open the door for renewable energy in Florida, senators in the Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee shut it Monday on many of the small, independent producers of solar and biomass energy in the state.
Senate Bill 2078, which requires utilities to conduct free energy audits for commercial properties, and allows investor owned utilities to raise rates as much as $400 million per year over the next five years to recover costs related to renewable energy projects, passed through the committee.
An amendment offered by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, which would have required 20 percent of the renewable energy created to come from smaller solar energy companies, was rejected in a 10-4 vote.
“We are an energy giant here in Florida but what is preventing us from being an energy giant is not allowing these producers in this state to access the market,” Altman said.
Small solar energy contractors and solar panel installers, reeling from the mini-boom created by the recent state rebate program that was highly popular but underfunded, got behind Altman’s amendment, to no avail.
“It works, it’s clean, it’s efficient, it does create jobs. The whole industry is about to take off,” said Matthew Chentnik, a solar contractor with Independent Green Technologies.
Senators also rejected an amendment from Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, that would have eliminated rate increases related to cost recovery from nuclear power plants that are currently in limbo. The amendment failed in a 9-5 vote. Fasano said the cost for the worries over the fallout from the Japanese earthquake and failing nuclear reactors that has the future of projects in doubt should not be borne by ratepayers.
“Now, with what’s happening in Japan, who knows when we’ll see another nuclear power plant being built in the country, not even the state,” Fasano said.
The overall bill passed with just one dissenting vote, from Fasano.
Fasano fretted over allowing a rate increase of as much as $400 million per year over the next five years in a tattered economy.
Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, who is sponsoring the bill, argued that there are sufficient cost-containment measures in the bill, and noted that it restricts the cost of renewable energy projects to 2 percent of monthly bills.
“This is the strongest statement (to the utilities) that has ever been contemplated before,” Benacquisto said.
Fasano was perplexed by her stance, and stated that if she was concerned about the effect on ratepayers, she would have supported his earlier amendment, as well as one that capped the 2 percent increase at one year.
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