Florida's Renewable Energy Efforts Have Gone Nowhere

May 22 - The Miami Herald

For a year, while the green movement was at its height, Florida
environmentalists, new solar companies, utility lobbyists and state
regulators spent thousands of hours trying to determine how much of
> the state's power supply should come from renewable energy sources
> like solar and wind.
> They did it because the Legislature in 2008 ordered them to do
> it.
> After sifting through thousands of pages of documents and sitting in
> lengthy workshops, the Public Service Commission sent its
> recommendations to the
> 2009 Legislature. A renewable bill passed the Senate but died in the
> House.
> The result: A year of work wasted.
> Among the major victims: The much ballyhooed Babcock Ranch
> project, which is trying to become the first solar-powered city in the
> world, and thousands of construction workers who would have been hired
> to build new power plants.
> "We are extremely disappointed," said Stephen Smith, head of the
> Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "The people of Florida should feel
> cheated by their legislative leadership."
> In the final days of the Legislature, the drama became intense.
> Gov.
> Charlie Crist at one point visited the House to plead for a renewable
> standard. When that failed, a major renewable energy producer, Florida
> Crystals, turned against Florida Power & Light, which was trying to
> craft its own solar deal. That deal died.
> The renewable saga began in July 2007 when Crist asked the PSC to
> develop rules to make power companies produce 20 percent of their
> electricity from renewables to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The
> PSC held four workshops in 2007 attended by dozens of major
> environmentalists and utility representatives.
> The issues were complex. Would solar and wind power cost
> customers more? Yes, probably, said the experts. How much more? The
> experts weren't certain. The PSC didn't come to any conclusions and
> neither did the
> 2008
> Legislature, which debated the issue at length and then ordered the
> PSC to study the matter again.
> Three more workshops were held. The PSC commissioned a study on
> the costs and potential for renewables from the Navigant consulting
> firm, which produced a 200-plus page document at a cost of $135,000.
> FPL sparked intense debate by insisting that, instead of a
> renewable standard, nuclear power should be considered in a "clean
> energy"
> standard,
> because nuclear can produce huge amounts of power while emiting no
> greenhouse gases. Environmentalists objected, saying huge nuclear
> plants would eliminate any need for solar, which they much preferred.
> The PSC ended up sending a 167-page report to the Legislature
> recommending that by 2020, 20 percent of power come from renewables,
> as long as it didn't increase customers' bills more than 2 percent a
> year. The report said the Legislature "may wish to consider" adding
> nuclear to the standard.
> To support the push for renewables, a coalition was created that
> included major environmental groups and renewable energy companies,
> such as Florida Crystals, which produces electricity from sugar cane
> waste.
> Susan Glickman, longtime environmental activist, coordinated the
> coalition's lobbying, serving as "cat-herder-in-chief. . . . The
> entrenched utility interests have so much clout that the best chance
> we had was to stick together."
> In the Senate, Sen. Jim King crafted a compromise bill that
> included nuclear, but only up to five percentage points of the 20
> percent standard.
> Environmentalists didn't like the nuclear provision, but King told
> Glickman it was the only way to get it to pass.
> "He did a masterful job," said Gaston Cantens of Florida
> Crystals.
> "Not everyone liked everything in it, but it had just enough of what
> people wanted so nobody was really upset."
> The bill stalled in the House. "This session was so weird, with
> the speaker's indictment and the budget crisis," said Glickman,
> referring to charges brought against Rep. Ray Sansom for getting the
> Legislature to approve a $6 million hangar for a buddy.
> The new House leadership was somewhat disorganized and not at all
> enthusiastic about renewables. "I think it was disingenuous for the
> House to act like this was a new area," said Glickman, considering
> that the Legislature had asked the PSC to return with a
> recommendation. But they'd say, 'The House doesn't have any appetite
> for this.' 'We did energy last year.' "
> Florida Power & Light publicly supported a renewable standard,
> particularly if it included nuclear, but others weren't so sure of
> what the utilities really wanted. Florida Crystals lobbyist Sean
> Stafford said the big utilities made "public pronouncements" that
> favored renewables, "but I never saw the private heavy lifting" by
> their many lobbyists to get a bill passed.
> Ultimately, House leaders added off-shore drilling to an energy
> bill, guaranteeing that environmentalists would oppose it. "On the
> last day of the session, the governor physically came down to the
> House and pushed very hard" for a renewables bill, said Glickman.
> Some environmentalists have questioned Crist's commitment. The
> popular governor had gained a lot of publicity for demanding more fuel
> efficient cars -- a concept that didn't even make it out of committee.
> Then his backing of urging of renewables led to nothing.
> Glickman said Crist shouldn't be faulted for that. "I think the
> governor continues to deserve an enormous amount of credit. He fought
> back."
> Meanwhile, FPL tried a separate maneuver, attaching a rider to a
> large spending bill that would have given it full cost recovery for
> several of its solar projects, including the world's largest
> photovoltaic power plant for the new city of Babcock Ranch, 17,000
> acres near Fort Myers.
> FPL supports solar projects as long as its costs can be
> completely recovered from its customers. It has three solar projects
> already under way because of an earlier arrangement from the
> Legislature.
> But this time, renewable energy groups and some other entities
> were upset that FPL was getting a solar deal while everyone else was
> being left out. Especially upset was Florida Crystals. Cantens
> complained FPL has been paying less than 4 cents a kilowatt-hour for
> the power produced by Crystals'
> sugar cane waste plant.
> That's about a third of what customers pay for electricity.
> Crystals
> has to accept what FPL pays because in the state's regulated system,
> there is no open market for selling power.
> Not wanting FPL to prosper while other renewable companies had
> nothing, Florida Crystals sent lobbyist Stafford to talk to a Senate
> leader.
> The FPL deal died. Stafford, Glickman and Crystals spokesman Cantens
> all confirm this story.
> FPL spokeswoman Jackie Anderson said, "We were obviously
> disappointed that the Legislature did not carry forward the existing
> state policy supporting the development of renewable energy in
> Florida."
> Anderson and many environmentalists point out that construction
> of clean-energy plants can boost the economy. "For example, the 75-
> megawatt solar thermal facility we are building in Martin County will
> generate more than 1,000 construction jobs, and a recent job fair to
> fill these positions brought in more than 8,000 applicants," Anderson
> wrote in an e-mail.
> "The Babcock Ranch solar project would bring additional renewable
> energy, more than 400 jobs and significant economic benefits to the
> state.
> We would like to move forward on the project," Anderson wrote. "We are
> committed to pursuing additional renewable energy projects like this
> one and will move forward when the necessary regulatory framework is
> in place."
> Developer Syd Kitson said he's continuing with his plans for
> Babcock Ranch. "We're hopeful of starting construction next year," he
> said, and he still wants the city to be solar powered. That means
> action by the Legislature. "It's not hurting us at the moment, but
> it's important we do get action."
> Congress is now discussing a national renewable standard. If that
> happens before action in Florida, renewable energy companies in other
> areas will continue to have a head start on companies trying to get
> started here, say environmentalists.
> "By dragging their heels in the Legislature," Glickman said,
> "Florida is more likely to miss out on the economic development
> opportunities."