Is Renewable Portfolio Standard in trouble in Tallahassee?

03/26/09 Seán Kinane
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In July 2007, Florida Governor Charlie Crist held the state’s first Climate Summit. In executive orders coming out of that meeting, Crist requested that the state’s Public Service Commission, or PSC, “adopt a 20 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) by 2020, with a strong focus on solar and wind energy.”

The Legislature is considering whether to implement an RPS, but it may fall far short of Crist’s expectations.

Requiring electric utilities to generate a portion of their energy from renewable sources rather than fossil fuels will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But a strong RPS is not just good for the environment; it would also be a boost to the state’s economy. That’s according to Jerry Karnas, Florida Climate Project Director with Environmental Defense Fund.

“The economic stakes of this race have never been higher. … This is going to be the issue that dominates the market over the next hundred years. And the state that gets it right, the country that gets it right, is going to be the country that creates the next generation of jobs and profits. Florida under Governor Crist … put itself on the precipice of creating these jobs … [and] diversifying our economy.”

But Karnas warns that the RPS “is in serious trouble in Tallahassee.”

“We are not even being given a fair hearing in the House of Representatives. The Senate is going to move a bill. … We are going to work hard in the coming weeks to try to unlock the myopic opposition from the House leadership.”

The Miami Herald reported Wednesday that the bill is dead in the House because the chair of the Energy & Utilities Policy Committee, Representative Paige Kreegel, said the bill would not move forward. Karnas blames House leadership for the roadblock.

“The Miami Herald story didn’t get it exactly right. What Rep. Kreegal announced in the committee hearing was that he did not believe that that committee would be moving its own bill. And his final committee meeting, which would have been Friday of this week, was canceled by House leadership.”

One way that a strong RPS could create new jobs is through the manufacture and installation of photovoltaic, or PV solar panels. Bill Johnson of Sarasota founded the company Brilliant Harvest that finances and installs PV solar systems. He says Tuesday’s decisions by the Legislature are “a huge disappointment.”

A Renewable Energy Dividend, also known as a “Feed-in Tariff” mandates a price premium for renewable energy. Johnson says it delivers the “highest amount of renewable energy implementation for the least cost.” Johnson says the cost of solar keeps going down, while the cost of nuclear power keeps going up.

In the state Senate, there are two competing RPS bills. One is sponsored by Altamonte Springs Republican Senator Lee Constantine.

The other bill, sponsored by Republican Senator Charlie Dean of Inverness is called the “Clean Portfolio Standards Act.” By substituting the term “clean” in place of “renewable,” Dean’s bill includes nuclear power as part of the 20 percent. Senator Constantine’s RPS bill does not include nuclear.

“Nuclear energy is clean energy, it’s not renewable energy,” he said.

The utility Tampa Electric currently generates about 3 percent of its energy from renewable sources, according to spokesperson Rick Morera. But unlike some other utilities in the state, Tampa Electric does not generate electricity from nuclear power. Morera says that a renewable portfolio standard should not include nuclear.

“Adding nuclear to the definition of renewable energy basically is going to negate the 20 percent renewable goal. Because it’s pretty much going to get the state there without the more traditional renewable energy sources. In our estimation we ought to not include nuclear energy in a renewable definition. Nuclear power will probably not be included in a federal definition, very likely this year or next year. And really a federal standard and a state standard ought to correlate.”

WMNF attempted to reach Senator Charlie Dean but he did not return our call by deadline.

House Energy & Utilities Policy Committee

Crist’s 2007 Executive Orders on climate change

previous WMNF coverage of RPS

Sen. Constantine’s RPS bill

Sen. Dean’s “Clean Portfolio Standards Act”

House RPS bill

Sen. Lee Constantine

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