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Solving the energy riddle

A doctor, a utility board member, a health-care executive and a state lawmaker are among the nine people who will help decide the way Florida gets, produces and uses its energy for the next several decades. They are members of the new Florida Energy Commission, which was created as part of a major energy law passed by state lawmakers this year that is designed to lessen the state's dependence on expensive natural gas and foreign oil. Among other things, the group is charged with figuring out how the state should best develop and use renewable sources of energy, such as solar, wind and biomass. The commission also must decide how to increase the safety and construction standards for utility lines and poles so they can better withstand hurricanes.

A doctor, a utility board member, a health-care executive and a state lawmaker are among the nine people who will help decide the way Florida gets, produces and uses its energy for the next several decades.

They are members of the new Florida Energy Commission, which was created as part of a major energy law passed by state lawmakers this year that is designed to lessen the state's dependence on expensive natural gas and foreign oil.

Among other things, the group is charged with figuring out how the state should best develop and use renewable sources of energy, such as solar, wind and biomass. The commission also must decide how to increase the safety and construction standards for utility lines and poles so they can better withstand hurricanes.

"We're going to have to look at everything — affordability, supply, transportation issues, (fuel) diversity," said Commissioner Tommy Boroughs, immediate past president of the Orlando Utilities Commission, the state's second-largest municipally owned utility.

Boroughs, the commission's chairman, was jointly appointed by state House Speaker Allen Bense, R-Panama City, and Senate President Tom Lee, R-Valrico. The... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

A doctor, a utility board member, a health-care executive and a state lawmaker are among the nine people who will help decide the way Florida gets, produces and uses its energy for the next several decades.

They are members of the new Florida Energy Commission, which was created as part of a major energy law passed by state lawmakers this year that is designed to lessen the state's dependence on expensive natural gas and foreign oil.
 
Among other things, the group is charged with figuring out how the state should best develop and use renewable sources of energy, such as solar, wind and biomass. The commission also must decide how to increase the safety and construction standards for utility lines and poles so they can better withstand hurricanes.

"We're going to have to look at everything — affordability, supply, transportation issues, (fuel) diversity," said Commissioner Tommy Boroughs, immediate past president of the Orlando Utilities Commission, the state's second-largest municipally owned utility.

Boroughs, the commission's chairman, was jointly appointed by state House Speaker Allen Bense, R-Panama City, and Senate President Tom Lee, R-Valrico. The two men then set about appointing four members each.

Boroughs said the volunteer panel would try to come up with a list of recommendations "so that five years, 10 years, 20 years from now, when somebody flips that switch, the lights come on, they can afford it, it will be reliable, and we can protect our natural resources."

"That's a big job, and we're not going to please everybody all of the time," he said. "We're going to be listening to every good idea that anybody's got."

Lee made his four appointments last month. Bense has made three and has one to go.

The energy policy gives very broad requirements for commission appointees, saying they must be an expert in at least one of the following areas: energy, natural resource conservation, economics, engineering, finance, law, consumer protection, state energy policy or a related field.

The panel's members are all businessmen, and some have worked for a utility. One is a doctor who chairs the Florida Medical Association's Environment and Health Section and serves as a member of Jacksonville's Environmental Protection Board, and another works for one of the nation's largest health-care insurers.

The group must meet at least twice a year and give reports, including proposed legislation, to the Senate president and House speaker by Dec. 31 of each year, starting in 2007. The first report must include suggested incentives for research and energy conservation and a proposal for a statewide climate-action plan that would reduce greenhouse emissions.

"This gives us an opportunity to take a fresh look at things," said Commissioner J. Sam Bell, former head of Tallahassee's utility commission, who thinks there could be ways for Florida to expand the use of solar, wind and geothermal energy.

He also said there are challenges.

"Wind energy takes very large wind turbines, and very large wind turbines don't mix very well with hurricanes," Bell said. "And so there may be a way to adapt that, and there may not be."

Gov. Jeb Bush ordered lawmakers to come up with a new energy policy by the end of the 2006 legislative session, but it was Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, who shepherded the 164-page missive through several legislative committees and before both chambers for a vote.

Constantine was also one of Lee's appointments to the energy commission.

"The opportunity to be on this — to be the bill's sponsor and then kind of like the guy that guided this through the legislature and now be on it — really gives me a unique opportunity to forge a positive direction," Constantine said. "This is a landmark piece of legislation that's going to reap benefits in the future, and we are on the cutting edge, and we do have a real opportunity to get ahead."

Like others on the new commission, Constantine said, he does not know many of the members. But he points out that they have a varied background and each has a strong, direct knowledge of the energy field in some way.

"What we tried to establish with the energy commission is a group of individuals that are going to take a long, broad look at our energy need," he said. "How can we promote not only reliable and efficient, affordable and certainly diverse energy sources but also work toward the right incentives for renewables, alternatives and recyclables?"

Constantine said he considers the commission to have a broad range of opportunities.

Besides forming the energy commission, the new law also authorizes the Florida Public Service Commission to adopt more stringent standards for building poles and wires, streamlines the process for approving new power plants and removes the competitive-bid rule for building nuclear plants.

Nuclear plants cost billions of dollars in upfront costs, making other types of plants a better economic choice in the short term. However, this has led to a Florida that's very dependent on natural gas, the price of which has soared over the past two years.

That point was underlined in 2005 when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita slammed into Gulf Coast oil rigs, choking off gas and oil supplies to Florida.

The law also gives tax breaks and other incentives for solar products and energy-efficient appliances and calls on the state Department of Environmental Protection to promote energy conservation.

Florida gets between 30 percent and 35 percent of its fuel from natural gas, well above the national average of 18 percent. The state uses very little renewable sources of energy, saying there's too much cloud cover to develop solar energy and there's no sustainable wind like what's in the Mojave Desert for wind turbines.

When committee members were appointed, they had to say whether they had any direct financial ties to, or owned any part of, a business such as a utility that could profit from a decision the commission makes. They also had to say whether they work for such a company or do business with one.

Bense approached Bill Cramer, a Panama City Chevrolet car dealer and board member of Gulf Power Corp., to apply to the commission, Cramer said.

"We talk an awful lot about generation, the fuel that we use and the environmental impacts," Cramer said. "Those I am sure will be at the top of my list as far as what I might be able to bring to the commission."

Environmental activists are hoping that good things come from the new panel.

"As a state, we are looking to the energy commission to lead Florida as it moves to a clean energy future and a clean energy economy," said Susan Glickman, Florida policy director of Natural Resources Defense Council. "It's in the state's best interest to get out ahead of the implications of global warming and to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels."


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

SEP 4 2006
https://www.windaction.org/posts/4350-solving-the-energy-riddle
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