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State took on new role in '07 on energy issues

Throughout the year, utility regulators held meetings on how to increase the amount of energy the state gets from renewable sources. "When you look at the need the state has, we have a growing energy demand, and we need to balance how we meet that demand with cost, energy security, energy diversification ... a number of things we've done over the past two years puts us in a better place," said Lisa Edgar, outgoing chairwoman of the five-member PSC. "It's certainly been an exciting year for energy issues, and I think the commission has done good work." And on the final day of the year Monday, state legislators will get a list of recommendations from the Florida Energy Commission to take up during the legislative session. "This was really a historical year for Florida. How do we continue the momentum?" Smith said. "There are a lot of folks that can be obstructionist to where the governor goes - the state legislature and the utilities are going to be big players in that.

At the beginning of this year, Florida was going to be the home of several new coal-fired power plants, including one in Glades County that would be the largest in the United States.

Solar- and wind-power projects were nonexistent in the state, no ethanol plants were on the drawing board, and the phrase "low-carbon economy" sounded like something out of an episode of Star Trek.

But everything changed in February, when Terry Tamminen went to Tallahassee at the behest of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, perhaps the nation's greenest governor.

"In the environmental community, folks believed that Florida was prime for some leadership on climate change," said Jerry Karnas, Florida Climate Project director for New York-based Environmental Defense. "We felt the door had creaked open, and we had an opportunity at that point."

Tamminen, who had been secretary of California's Environmental Protection Agency, and other clean-energy advocates sat down with newly inaugurated GOP Gov. Charlie Crist.

The goal was to get Crist to mention, during his State of the State address, the crisis of climate change.

To the pleasant surprise... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

At the beginning of this year, Florida was going to be the home of several new coal-fired power plants, including one in Glades County that would be the largest in the United States.

Solar- and wind-power projects were nonexistent in the state, no ethanol plants were on the drawing board, and the phrase "low-carbon economy" sounded like something out of an episode of Star Trek.

But everything changed in February, when Terry Tamminen went to Tallahassee at the behest of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, perhaps the nation's greenest governor.

"In the environmental community, folks believed that Florida was prime for some leadership on climate change," said Jerry Karnas, Florida Climate Project director for New York-based Environmental Defense. "We felt the door had creaked open, and we had an opportunity at that point."

Tamminen, who had been secretary of California's Environmental Protection Agency, and other clean-energy advocates sat down with newly inaugurated GOP Gov. Charlie Crist.

The goal was to get Crist to mention, during his State of the State address, the crisis of climate change.

To the pleasant surprise of the environmental community, Crist went them one better.

Global warming, Crist said during his March speech, is one of the world's most pressing issues. But then he called for a group of leaders to meet during the summer to figure out ways that Florida could be more energy-independent and reduce the amount of carbon emissions entering the atmosphere.

"It was such a refreshing change of pace," said Susan Glickman, Southern regional director for London-based environmental organization The Climate Group. "Crist broke through the old, conceived notions of what's possible for Florida."

Things ramped up even more during a two-day climate change summit the governor hosted in July. Schwarzenegger, Theodore Roosevelt IV and Robert Kennedy Jr. were among the main speakers.

At the meeting, held in Miami, Crist signed executive orders requiring the state to slash greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 and mandating that utilities get 20 percent of their electricity from renewable fuels. State-owned buildings needed to be energy-efficient, he said, and Florida's fleet needed to run on clean-burning fuel such as ethanol.

He also told the Florida Public Service Commission to get busy figuring out how residents can get reimbursed for excess electricity they generate, as a way to encourage Floridians to add solar energy and other renewables to their homes.

At the end, what Crist had done was begin to move the state - and its power companies - away from an energy plan that relied on fossil fuels such as coal to meet the electricity needs of its growing population.

No one felt that shift in emphasis more acutely than Florida Power & Light Co.

In June, the PSC rejected Glades Power Park, a 1,960-megawatt twin-unit coal-fired power plant. FPL regrouped, filing for permission to add nuclear plants in Miami-Dade County and floating suggestions for wind turbines in St. Lucie County.

"We believe additional nuclear power, new solar power projects and efforts to bring wind power to Florida make sense because those energy sources produce no greenhouse gases," FPL President Armando Olivera said in a statement.

What also changed was FPL's usual rejoinder to proposals for more solar and wind power capability: Florida's too cloudy, and solar technology is too expensive. And it's not windy enough here, either.

FPL denies any shift in thinking, touting its long time energy-conservation programs and arguing that its sister company, FPL Energy LLC, is among the world's top producers of alternative energy.

"Our focus hasn't changed," Olivera wrote. "At FPL, we are committed to being part of the solution to global warming, and for years, we've been a nationally recognized clean-energy and energy-conservation leader."

Certainly, FPL's parent company sought a much higher profile on this issue in 2007.

FPL Group Chief Executive Lew Hay III carved out a portion of the Fortune 250 company's annual shareholders meeting in May to talk about climate change and testified before Congress in June on placing a fee on carbon as the way to get industries to clean up. FPL Group also joined the U.S. Climate Action Partnership - a consortium of 10 businesses and four clean-energy groups - to push for a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions.

And in September, Hay announced a $2.4 billion clean-energy program that included the building of a 300-megawatt solar plant in Florida.

"FPL at the beginning of the year was pushing one of the nation's largest pulverized coal plants, and at the end of the year is looking at solar technology," said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, based in Knoxville, Tenn.

All of this is in keeping with the nation's heightened attention to renewable sources of energy. But Florida continues to steadily draw people from other states, and the demand for energy will continue to increase.

"It's great to have objectives, it's great to have renewables, we have to do that," said Frank Maisano, a Washington-area spokesman for the utility industry. "But you also have to have a view of the larger picture that includes the type of unchecked growth that Florida is going through."

That means it will be a challenge for Florida's leaders to keep a commitment to alternative forms of energy while at the same time keeping the air-conditioning running and the lights on.

"No matter how much you do with renewables, you're never going to be able to do enough," said Tommy Boroughs, executive director of the Florida Energy Commission and a member of the Governor's Energy Action Team, which was created by one of his executive orders.

"What we're talking about doing, it's not going to be quick, it's not going to be easy, it's not going to be cheap. But the sooner we start off, the better."

Moving into 2008, utility regulators have to settle on what's known as a renewable-portfolio standard - the details of requiring utilities to get a certain percentage of their fuel from things such as biomass, solar and wind. Without that, companies won't want to build wood waste-processing plants or solar arrays because the banks won't pony up the hundreds of millions of dollars it takes to finance them without a sure buyer of that electricity.

"People say it's naturally going to happen. Well, people aren't going to make it happen unless people realize there is a long-term commitment from the state," said Gaston Cantens, vice president of West Palm Beach-based Florida Crystals Inc., which operates a waste-to-energy plant in its sugar cane fields.

Cantens says having a renewable-portfolio standard in Florida will create a market for biomass and other alternative fuels.

Throughout the year, utility regulators held meetings on how to increase the amount of energy the state gets from renewable sources. "When you look at the need the state has, we have a growing energy demand, and we need to balance how we meet that demand with cost, energy security, energy diversification ... a number of things we've done over the past two years puts us in a better place," said Lisa Edgar, outgoing chairwoman of the five-member PSC. "It's certainly been an exciting year for energy issues, and I think the commission has done good work."

And on the final day of the year Monday, state legislators will get a list of recommendations from the Florida Energy Commission to take up during the legislative session.

"This was really a historical year for Florida. How do we continue the momentum?" Smith said. "There are a lot of folks that can be obstructionist to where the governor goes - the state legislature and the utilities are going to be big players in that. But I'm optimistic."


Source: http://www.palmbeachpost.co...

DEC 30 2007
https://www.windaction.org/posts/12571-state-took-on-new-role-in-07-on-energy-issues
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