Business

Concerned Citizens: Don't Play Games With Energy

Critics argue that smaller is better and that subsidies should go directly to consumers
By: Kenric Ward | Posted: July 12, 2010 4:05 AM
Solar Panels on Roof

Barbara Drndak: Rooftop solar hot-water heating systems are more efficient than FPL's proposed solar array.

After business executives, deal-makers, politicians and academics had their say at the Florida Energy Summit last week, rank-and-file Floridians spoke out. Many weren't impressed.

Concerns ranged from the state's failure to pay promised solar rebates to consumers, to fears that proposed renewable-energy legislation will be tailored to big investor-owned utilities at the expense of small competitors and the public at large.

Questioning the motives of "Citizens for Clean Energy," which hosted Thursday's forum in Orlando, Steve Brodkin said, "They're not a citizens group at all, but a developer ploy to advance the Kitson project and a cover to gain support for the city of Babcock Ranch."

Kitson and Partners is among the business groups that comprise Citizens for Clean Energy.

Brodkin, president of Concerned Citizens of the Bayshore Community, alleged that Florida Power & Light's proposed 75-megawatt solar power plant in Southwest Florida would scar the environment and unfairly subsidize FPL.

Other speakers criticized what they saw as a solar-centric agenda at the conference, which drew a crowd of 300 attendees.

Mike Antheil, president of the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy, said focusing on large-scale solar projects is counterproductive.

"Small and mid-scale systems create the most jobs, with the least risk and the least cost to ratepayers. We're the ones that attract private investment dollars," said Antheil, whose group promotes biomass and other locally based, grass-roots energy ventures.

Barbara Drndak, who operates a small solar business in Vero Beach, argued that taxpayers, not electric companies, should get subsidies for going renewable.

"FPL's 500-acre Martin County Next Generation solar facility alone was estimated to cost $476 million -- with full cost recovery in every FPL customer's bill, every month, for the next 20 years," she said.

Drndak suggested that outlay would be better spent funding $3,000 rebates for residential solar water heaters.

Comparing the reduction in greenhouse gases of the two initiatives, Drndak said: "FPL's website claims that the Martin solar array is removing the equivalent of 18,700 cars per year. But the same money used for rooftop solar hot-water heating systems would remove 158,667 cars per year."

Drndak's message amplified the skepticism of other attendees who noted that the state has failed to compensate homeowners who installed solar water heaters and electric systems.

The Florida Solar Rebate Program owes almost 11,000 Floridians rebate checks, but has not been able to pay because the Legislature has not fully funded the program.

Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos, in his concluding remarks at the conference, stressed the need for "an all-energy solution" that incentivizes diverse initiatives from a variety of sources.

Yet in the trickle-down world of energy policy, the big boys, fronted by politically connected groups like Citizens for Clean Energy, appear to have the upper hand.

FPL says it will continue to push for the revival of a 2008 law that spurred large-scale solar projects by allowing the utility to pass along all construction costs to ratepayers.

FPL spokeswoman Jackie Anderson rejects the notion that the company seeks to monopolize the market or gouge the consumer.

"To ensure costs are kept low for customers, the legislation should include a reasonable cap on the amount that utilities can invest in renewable energy in a given year to protect ratepayers from large increases," Anderson said.

"For example, the legislation that passed the House in 2010 (but died in the Senate) would have set a cap on a utility's first-year renewable investment at the equivalent of 2 percent of its 2009 revenue."

Whatever renewable-energy bills might bubble up, they will likely have to wait until 2011, because Gov. Charlie Crist has ordered that the July 20-23 special session deal exclusively with a constitutional ban on offshore oil drilling.

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Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

Comments (1)

rury
1:40AM OCT 14TH 2011
Solar energy is the future rury

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