Proposal for green energy puts Florida on slow track

Aug 20, 2008

Christine Stapleton

Palm Beach Post

Gov. Charlie Crist will be 94 years old by the time his goals for green energy production are met - 30 years later than he wanted - under energy standards proposed by Florida's Public Service Commission.

The commission's staff fielded questions and suggestions Wednesday from utilities, environmentalists, developers, cities and the AARP. Under the controversial plan, investor-owned utilities would have until 2050 to make sure that 20 percent of the energy they sell comes from solar, biomass, wind, geothermal, ocean, waste, hydroelectric or hydrogen sources.

The sweeping energy bill passed by lawmakers earlier this year gives the commission until February to come up with rules that require utilities to supply a certain percentage of their retail electricity from green energy. The standards will drive the pace of Florida's green efforts and probably increase every electric bill, because renewable energy plants will need to be built and renewable energy is more expensive in Florida than existing energy sources.

At his first climate conference in July 2007, Crist signed an executive order requiring the commission to set a standard of 20 percent electricity sales from renewable fuels by 2020. But the draft discussed on Wednesday would require that 2 percent of electricity sales come from renewables by 2010; 3.75 percent by 2017; 6 percent by 2025; and 20 percent by 2050. Those deadlines would put Florida last - by 25 years - among the 29 states that have already enacted standards or goals. States with the most aggressive standards - California, Colorado, Delaware, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah - require 20 percent green energy portfolios by no later than 2025, with California reaching the 20 percent milestone by 2010.

"I'm not so sure the governor would be happy waiting that long," Public Service Commissioner Nathan Skop said. "I remember hearing 2020."

Even energy producers criticized the 2050 deadline during Wednesday's hearing.

"We believe the standards will be an enormous jump start when you have ambitious goals," said Sean Stafford of Florida Crystals, which produces energy from sugar cane. "But those numbers are not the kind of numbers that are going to bring exciting industry to Florida."

Last year, the commission held hearings on a standard that would require 20 percent of sales by 2020. Utilities said the only way that goal could be met is if nuclear power and energy efficiency programs were included in the mix.

Representatives of Florida's investor-owned utility companies did not speak during Wednesday's hearing but are expected to comment when it continues on Tuesday.

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