Renewable Energy Policy Looking Brighter in 2011
Around the State
For years, Florida lawmakers, energy producers and consumers have been interested in developing a renewable energy policy to help wean the state off fossil fuels, but despite their efforts, meaningful renewable policy has failed to make it to the governor's desk.
With committee meetings and lobbying already well under way for the 2011 legislative session, energy experts, analysts and lawmakers say compromise and a Legislature with the political will could make it happen.
"I think this year is a little different, in my view, because you have a solid commitment from House leadership to move forward on renewables and the Senate president has been publicly supportive of moving forward," said Sean Stafford, an energy consultant and lobbyist. "We're optimistic that something will pass this year that will enable the state to move forward on renewables."
In the past, he contends, renewable energy policy "has sort of died under its own weight," citing the many players with conflicting interests and other complexities involved with such an undertaking.
Rep. Clay Ford, R-Pensacola, who leads the House Subcommittee on Energy and Utilities, says getting the large investor-owned utilities (IOUs), smaller energy producers and both chambers in the Legislature to agree on a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) has been impossible in years past.
In prior years the Senate passed policy that included an RPS -- or a mandate on how much energy is to be produced from renewable sources -- but the House did not. In 2010, the House passed an energy bill without an RPS, but the Senate couldn't get it through, according to Ford, who says it could be that last year they just ran out of time.
But, unlike in years past, the mandate has not surfaced this year.
"It's still early,” Ford said, "But so far no legislation has been introduced this year that would move us to having an RPS."
Some groups, like the Florida Farm Bureau, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, independent energy producers and environmental groups have lobbied for an RPS, citing the 29 states where it's proven effective in increasing renewable energy production. A further seven states have Renewable Portfolio Goals, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
While Susan Glickman, a lobbyist for Southern Alliance, is still willing to fight for an RPS, she says she recognizes there's not much of an appetite for it in either chamber this year.
Another change may come from ratepayers. According to survey results released after the November election by Florida TaxWatch, an "overwhelming majority of Floridians want their elected leaders to take action to increase renewable energy production in Florida – and many are willing to pay for nominal increases in their monthly utility bills to do so."
The survey, a bipartisan poll by McLaughlin & Associates and Anzalone-Liszt, found more than 70 percent of Floridians "believe that paying a dollar or more on their monthly utility bill is reasonable for renewable power generation."
Still, with an economy still languishing in the trenches of painfully slow growth and high unemployment, legislators are wary about putting forth anything that could mean a rate increase. A question still looms of how much and how fast to ask utility customers to foot renewable energy bills.
Newly-elected state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, chairwoman of the Communication, Energy and Utilities Committee, says everyone has a desire to pursue greater energy independence, but there's also a concern of placing too big a burden on ratepayers.
"I might say this a hundred times," said the Fort Myers Republican, "but it is really important. Some people might not take as much care with regard to those ratepayers, but I do."
Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, agrees. He points out that the Public Services Commission already allowed Florida Power & Light Co. a $75.5 million base-rate hike last year. That and nuclear cost recovery charges have started showing up on bills of FPL and Progress Energy Florida customers.
"Millions were charged to Progress Energy customers for a nuclear power plant that no one knows when they're going to start to build," Fasano said. "The average ratepayer cannot afford any more cost to build nuclear power plants or solar plants. They just can't afford it right now."
Last year, Fasano proposed a bill to repeal the nuclear cost recovery measures passed by the PSC. He says he plans to try again in 2011.
Some argue not all cost recovery is the same. FPL's Senior Director of Development Buck Martinez says while the company is interested in cost recovery for its renewable energy projects, the expense and time commitment for solar, for example, are far less than what ratepayers have experienced with nuclear. This year, the Legislature anticipates considering the first energy bill focused primarily on solar power.
In Sunshine State News’ continuing series on Florida’s energy policy, we will next explore why utilities, like FPL, see a future in renewables and how they could affect Florida’s power generation and economic development.
Lane Wright can be reached at email@example.com or 561-247-1063.