Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Florida Lawmakers Not on Same Page Regarding Alternative Energy

"It's pretty scary what's happening in the Middle East, and our country is way too dependent on foreign oil."

That was our new governor, Rick Scott, speaking to a crowd of us who gathered in western Martin County last week for the dedication of Florida Power and Light's new solar plant.

We know Scott doesn't believe in high-speed rail as a method for decreasing dependence on fossil fuels. He recently turned down billions of federal dollars for that purpose, ticking off some of his fellow Republicans.

So, I was curious. What does Scott propose for our state when it comes to energy?

"We've got to figure out how we can become more independent, and we've got to look at alternative fuels, such as solar," Scott said, standing in a field of more than 190,000 solar-thermal mirrors that power FPL's Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center.

There's just one problem. The Sunshine State's lawmakers can't seem to get on the same page when it comes to alternative energy.

It's been three years since Florida lawmakers approved legislation allowing up to 110 megawatts of solar power to be built across the state. It was landmark legislation at the time, and FPL quickly used up that capacity.

It built the 75-megawatt Martin plant and two photovoltaic plants in DeSoto and Brevard counties (25 and 10 megawatts, respectively). All three are now producing power using the sun's rays.

Renewable energy advocates have been pushing for more legislation in the years since then, to no avail. When the state House agreed on an alternative energy bill, the Senate didn't go for it — and vice versa.

That left Florida way behind the curve. Thirty-one states have rules that require utilities to generate a certain amount of electricity from renewable or alternative energy sources.

Florida is not one of them.

FPL stands ready to build 500 megawatts of new solar plants in Florida, but it needs more legislation to make it happen. Because solar plants are not the lowest-cost plants to build, utilities require special permission to bill their customers for constructing them.

As Floridians have waited for their legislature to act, solar-product manufacturers that were considering the Sunshine State have moved to states including New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Mississippi, said Buck Martinez, senior director of project development for FPL.

"With the Panama Canal opening up, there's no reason why Florida can't be the leading exporter of solar panels all over the world," Martinez said.

But manufacturers need a commitment from the state before they will move here.

Utility-built solar power is not without its critics.

The three solar plants FPL built cost $623 million, with $120 million covered by a federal stimulus grant. The typical FPL customer is paying about 75 cents a month for the projects during their first full year, with costs decreasing in the years to come.

Some opponents don't like the higher cost of building solar power, compared with natural gas plants.

"What that fails to take into account is these projects have incredible fuel savings over the next 30 years," Martinez said. "It's a tremendous hedge against rising fuel prices."

Seeing the potential of solar, an increasingly vocal group of renewable-energy companies would like to work around FPL. They want the state to let them build solar panels on commercial and residential rooftops, then sell the energy back to the customers.

State Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who also visited the Martin solar plant on Saturday morning, said he expects a debate about alternative energy again this session.

When I asked him if he would commit to legislation that would allow FPL and other utilities to build more solar plants, he said he didn't want to "pick winners and losers." Instead, he wants the state to promote a variety of alternative energy — whether it's wind, biomass or solar.

"Our goal is to make sure we're offering incentives for everyone to come and compete, where we get the most return on equity," Haridopolos said.

There's still time for Florida. No established national hub for solar production has emerged — yet.

"Florida can quickly capitalize on that," Martinez said. "If we don't, nobody's going to win but the Chinese."

China has emerged as the largest manufacturer of solar panels and wind turbines, the New York Times reported last year.

Right now, Florida is the Sunshine State — but it's not the solar state.

When will it be both?

SOURCE: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2011/mar/07/eve-samples-when-will-florida-be-the-sunshine/

1 comment:

Rob said...

Competition! Competition is the key. The State of Florida and the monopolies in charge of power are stifling small business, medium business and especially distributed power systems. Governor Scott and the legislature needs to put distributed power generation at the top of the to do list and then watch nature and capitalism take it's course. Remove the monopolistic rules and regs.