Florida bill encourages development of renewable energe

May 1, 2008

Julie Patel

South Florida Sun-Sentinel


Florida legislators enlisted the state in the fight against global warming Wednesday. But a sweeping energy bill they passed unanimously may also dramatically change where the state gets its power and how much consumers pay for it.

Several provisions in the bill are expected to trigger higher electric costs in the next few years but would save consumers money in the long run through energy efficiency.

House Minority Leader Dan Gelber said: "The merit in this bill clearly outweighs its mischief."

Among other things, the bill includes perks for utilities, local governments and consumers to produce and use renewable energy and streamlines the process for utilities to build transmission lines on state land. It allows utilities to charge customers in advance for transmission lines and other facilities related to nuclear plants, even if the plant isn't builtbecause it isn't approved or the utility decides not to.

Many of the bill's 112 sections echo ideas that Gov. Charlie Crist has championed in his push to address climate change. Crist vetoed an energy package last year because he wrote in a memo that "it does not go far enough." It appears that's not the case this year.

"Today's vote signifies a commitment to protecting Florida's natural beauty and stimulating our economy, as well as reducing our dependence on foreign sources of oil," Crist said in a statement Wednesday.

But consumer advocates say the bill puts the cost of addressing global warming a problem partly created by emissions from major corporations, utilities and manufacturers largely on the backs of consumers.

"What we're asking is that elected officials put price tags on all things before signing off on them," said Mike Twomey, an AARP spokesman.

The problem is, according to a state report analyzing the bill, the costs of many of the provisions can't be determined now. In a perk for consumers, utility customers may qualify for credits for generating renewable energy under the bill. Similarly, the bill would allow utility customers who install solar water heaters in their homes or pools to earn a partial rebate on the cost . Consumer advocates warn the provision could force people to subsidize solar for the few who can afford it.

It "allows the solar water heaters to jump to the front of the renewable line without having to demonstrate that they are more cost-effective than other technologies," Twomey said in an e-mail.

Solar and wind projects would also be given more weight in a plan requiring utilities to offer customers a certain amount of renewable energy. The plans would have to be approved by legislators for cost-effectiveness before implemented. Utilities will also be encouraged to build solar and wind projects by a provision in the bill that allows companies to pass to customers the full "reasonable and prudent" costs of projects that are considered "zero emissions" energy sources .

The bill would also allow the state Public Service Commission to develop a plan setting limits for greenhouse gas emissions for utilities and requiring utilities that exceed limits to buy allotments. Because the plan could have "significant cost impacts," according to a state analysis, legislators would review and approve the plan before it's implemented.

The bill would also allow utilities to recover "prudently incurred" costs of carbon capture and storage projects done in cooperation with state universities and allow the Public Service Commission to approve an additional return on equity of up to one-half of 1 percent for utilities that exceed a goal of having 20 percent of their new energy production come from renewable sources. That would translate to about $50 million for a large utility such as Florida Power & Light.





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