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Repeal of Renewable Energy Goals Killing Jobs in Florida

August 17, 2012 - 6:00pm

In the Sunshine State, where we lag behind most other states in renewable energy industry job creation, we still do not have a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) policy like the 30-plus states creating new jobs.

At the just-concluded Florida Energy Summit, hosted by the Florida Department of Agriculture, as unemployment in Florida ticked up to 8.8 percent -- still no commitment.

Perhaps this should not be any surprise. After all, this summit came after a 2012 Florida legislative session that all but dismantled renewable energy in the Sunshine State. And, in the lead-up to the summit in a far-reaching Florida Trend interview of Commissioner Adam Putnam, there is a sense that he and other policymakers may be doubling down.

There were early-warning signs from Commissioner Putnam, who now directs Floridas energy policy. In the fall of 2011, he warned that renewable energy policy would take a walk back in Florida. He knew because (after all), he held all of the cards. As a side, after serving in the Florida House in the '90s and being the No. 3 Republican within the GOP caucus in the U.S. Congress just a few years ago, he is perhaps the most experienced politician in Tallahassee, where we now have eight-year term limits on a legislator's experience.

Some would argue that Putnam holds enough political clout and power to accomplish just about anything he wants in the Capitol, including implementing the RPS language placed in state statutes a few years ago. The opposite was chosen. At this year's summit, the best we could get was a commitment to "continue the conversation on energy."

Two critical policy items that were the cornerstones of the Charlie Crist administration's efforts to have Florida be a leader in renewable energy were repealed in the 2012 Legislature. The repeals have left Florida with essentially no renewable energy policy or with no hopes of one, except for tax incentives that benefited only a few.

During debates in the 2012 session, some renewable energy lobbyists were even convinced that they should not oppose the repeals and support the bill instead, a bill that may be the death knell to their own industry. They believed that their support would commit the commissioner to fixing it later, some sheepishly say ... when Commissioner Putnam is governor.

Additionally, legislators who would have normally opposed the repeal of the statutory RPS language and measures in place to step up efforts to reduce carbon emissions voted in favor of the repeal legislation.

What did the main boosters of the effort get? They got to run a victory lap. The got to say that Florida has finally passed a modest comprehensive energy bill, and with bipartisan support. So, case closed ... renewable energy set and match.

But there is a sobering truth with the bill's passage. That truth is that all momentum toward an energy-independent Florida was repealed in one fell swoop. Experienced lobbyists know that lauding the eventual bipartisan passage of a long-fought effort is simply code for "the issue will never see the light of day again." But, for reasons not quite understood, many renewable energy lobbyists were snookered. Some of us spoke out and said as much, but were seen as outsiders.

A more disturbing reality is that by eliminating policies that were being put in place and sending signals of disinterest to clean-energy businesses, Florida has lost jobs and investments in our economy. Investors now know unequivocally of Floridas disinterest in renewable energy and have acted in kind. They are not flocking to fund Florida renewable energy entrepreneurs because they see no sign that the state is committed to sustaining the industry.

Additionally, companies have either left Florida to do business elsewhere, severely cut back and/or laid off workers, filed for bankruptcy protection, closed shop or in some cases decided to do business in other countries or in other U.S. territories. Why? Because there is no long-term policy commitment from the Legislature. Some have even sought bankruptcy protection, while others have shut their doors. Not because the market has spoken, but because policymakers have failed to provide the renewable energy industry the same or similar level of support it has given nuclear, coal and fossil fuels. It has failed to provide a level playing field.

It's way past time to place Florida in the lead for green job creation, and stop training a 21st century work force that can't find work here.

Michael Dobson is a longtime Tallahassee-based lobbyist and columnist, managing member of Dobson, Craig and Associates and founder/ CEO of Florida Renewable Energy Producers Association.

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