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Politics

Energy Bill Hailed as a Job Generator

April 13, 2010 - 6:00pm

Generating 700 megawatts of increased solar-power output would create 40,000 jobs and expand economic activity in Florida by $8.1 billion, a new study says.

The report by the Washington Economics Group helped to fuel support for Senate Bill 1186, which the Senate Energy Committee passed Wednesday.

Representatives from the renewable energy, construction and manufacturing sectors touted the financial projections, and urged lawmakers to "remove the barriers to a clean energy industry."

"We've watched clean energy companies overlook Florida for years and have been frustrated by the Legislature's inaction. That has to change this session," said Rich Paul-Hus, senior vice president at Hypower, a Fort Lauderdale-based energy concern.

To facilitate the development of renewable-energy projects, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, amended SB 1186 to direct that "all prudently incurred costs of renewable energy shall be recoverable from electric utility customers through an environmental cost recovery clause."

An additional provision inserted by author Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, capped the costs that can be passed on to ratepayers.

In the first year, recovery costs could be no more than 2 percent of the average residential bill. The second and third years would be capped at 1 percent.

Proponents of the Senate bill -- including investor-owned utilities -- reportedly supported the inclusion of the consumer-protection caps, which are not currently in the House energy bill.

Renewable-energy advocates also said a renewable-energy output of 700 megawatts could produce even more jobs and greater economic benefits, depending on the power source.

To streamline its projections, the Washington Economics Group calculated only for solar power. But purveyors of biomass and other renewable sources say their operations will employ even more Floridians per kilowatt.

Biomass appears to be far more powerful employment generators than fossil fuels as well. Based on employment per million megawatt hours, biomass yields 791 jobs versus just 69 jobs with fossil fuel, according to industry studies.

Jack Sullivan, of the Tallahassee-based Florida Research Consortium, said it's crucial that state policymakers promote research and development programs "to create a demand so manufacturing can take root here."

"In turn, research will be where the manufacturing is," he added.

Manufacturers and developers see the synergy and urged prompt passage of SB 1186.

In a letter to lawmakers, a consortium of 10 companies and contractor associations stated that the cost-recovery provisions in SB 1186 would kickstart development and construction of renewable energy ventures that "would add an additional $2.1 billion in wages" around the state.

Syd Kitson, CEO of Kitson and Partners, said a 75-megawatt solar plant is ready to be built at Babcock Ranch in Southwest Florida.

"At Babcock Ranch, we have the opportunity to create a new industry with new jobs. We can break ground and create jobs in the next six months," Kitson said.

Rob Kornahrens, founder and president of Advanced Green Technologies, said 95 percent of the solar panels distributed by his Broward County-based firm currently are shipped out of Florida.

"We've trained 50 solar contractors here in Florida, but without a statewide renewable energy policy, they won't have any work," Kornahrens said.

Proponents said they were not overly concerned about the bill's failure to include "renewable portfolio standards," which would set specific annual targets and goals for renewable energy output.

Though Florida is one of just 14 states without RPS standards or goals, one industry observer stated, "It's pretty clear that RPS won't pass."

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

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