Tampa Bay Area residents discuss renewable energy policy

02/21/11 Zack Baddorf
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Over the weekend, a group of about 50 Tampa Bay Area residents met up this weekend to discuss renewable energy policy for Florida. Held at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, the event was part of a statewide tour of 10 cities by the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy (FARE).

Peggy Goodale discussed LED lighting alternatives next to a display on the environmental and economic benefits of switching over from regular bulbs. She’s a Pinellas Park resident and a long-time advocate of solar energy.

“I’m really, really worried," she said. "I know that climate change is true. Things are hotter now than they used to be. I lived in Florida all my life. I know it’s hotter now than it was when I was a little kid."

Goodale attended a townhall meeting organized by the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy – FARE.

The event was organized by Mike Antheil, FARE’s executive director. His organization will be introducing state-wide legislation to implement distributed generation of renewable energy.

“Distributed generation is just like it sounds. Solar on every rooftop, biomass on every farm and renewable energy on properties all across the state. We’re hoping that this tour will build the momentum to give us the leg up that we need to actually bring home a win this year in legislative session," he said.

Antheil says the bill will allow for a “free and open market place” for production of renewable energy. Now, private individuals and businesses can’t sell energy generated from biomass and solar panels.

He says the cost of these environmentally-friendly energy sources is coming down.

“If we want to have any sort of impact in terms of establishing energy independence and energy security then we have to start taking that move toward investing in renewable energy from a homeowner all the way up to a business and everybody in between," Antheil told WMNF.

FARE’s coalition includes individuals, manufacturers, policy makers, and businesses, like the St. Petersburg-based Solar Energy Management where Scott Bellefleur works. His company improves energy efficiency on commercial and residential buildings. He’s also hoping for legislative change.

Bellefleur said, “You’ve got to make the policies that are favorable for us to implement these type of things into people wanting to do solar into their house. If you don’t have any kind of rebates, if you don’t have some kind of carrot out there to help subsidize some of the cost to do it, you’re not going to go too far with your business.

Bellefleur wasn’t alone in his support of renewable energy policy change.

Karl Nurse, the vice chair of the St. Petersburg City Council, says aside from helping the environment, renewable energy can also create jobs.

“What’s helpful about it is that it generates many more jobs than say a coal fire plant or natural gas plant. There are industries around the world that are considering Florida and we need to communicate that we’re interested. So we need to change some of the rules change some of the legislation so that it’s clear that Florida wants to go down this road and that will grow an industry for us and we desperately need that," Nurse said at the town hall meeting.

Before the legislation is introduced, Nurse says people can start with their own homes.

“Get an energy audit which will put together a list of what you can do that will save you money , that makes economic sense and start with what has the fastest payback. And just work your way through. And by doing that, many people, probably 80 percent of people could lower their power bill by 30-35 percent without spending huge amounts of money," said Nurse.

Meanwhile, Goodale says people should join an environmental group they trust that does research and provides sound advice. Like Nurse, she says people should get involved because policy change is what will make the difference.

“Well you can’t really complain unless you are involved. So at least call and write letters. I mean it’s easy enough to call someone and it’s fun to visit someone locally even if they don’t do what you want them to do,” Goodale said.

Bellefleur agrees: “Get active people. You know, this is our future.”

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