Florida would jump from lackluster ranks to having the most stringent renewable energy requirements for electricity generation in the nation, under a bill to be considered Thursday by a Senate committee.
The Senate's energy plan (SB 996) would require half of new electricity in Florida to be generated with renewable energies such as biomass, wind and solar by 2017. The Sunshine State currently generates less than 10 percent of its electricity using nuclear power and other renewable fuels, instead relying primarily on natural gas, coal and petroleum — all fossil fuels.
The 50 percent figure may change during upcoming negotiations, but it signals that some state lawmakers want Florida to join at least 20 other states and the District of Columbia, which currently have renewable portfolio standards for electricity production. Minnesota, for example, has a requirement of 25 percent by 2025 — the highest percentage of any state to date, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
"I think it's very bold to set an aggressive goal like that," said Susan Glickman, a consultant for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "I think it will certainly cause people to look at what's in the realm of the possible for Florida."
However, the House energy plan (ENRC 07-01) approved Wednesday by the Environment and Natural Resources Council rejects a renewable energy mandate until a study can be conducted to recommend a requirement. It opts instead for tax incentives and grants to spur the production of renewable fuels such as ethanol, which experts have said could be readily produced in Florida using materials such as citrus and yard waste.
The Senate plan also contains tax incentives, but its author believes a mandate is the best way to spur needed investment in renewable energy to offset Florida's dependence on foreign oil.
"We're dragging the power companies kicking and screaming to the table," said Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton.
Rep. Bob Allen, R-Merritt Island, the House energy head, said incentives are a better way to get industry to partner in new initiatives.
"Mandating is the old central government model where it's Soviet style. You're telling people, 'You shall do this,' and you hope they will," Allen said. "You can't make people spend and invest dollars … with a mandate as fast as you can when you incentivize it."
Florida Power and Light, the state's largest electricity producer, had not had time to digest the Senate proposal.
"We'll evaluate it," said spokesman Mayco Villafana.
The Senate bill would require the creation of a net-metering program, in which electricity customers who have installed solar or wind technologies in their homes and businesses would receive credit for excess power they send back out onto the grid.