Inaction In Florida

Stephen Smith | June 3, 2009 | Climate Change, Energy Policy

The hope that Florida would develop a market for renewable energy recently went up in flames because the Fla. House of Representatives failed to act this session.  Unfortunately, we’ll now have to wait for federal action since we lost a golden opportunity, specifically a clean energy bill, to drive investment and create jobs with homegrown energy resources.

In 2007, Governor Crist was hailed as a climate crusader – handing down a commendable executive order encouraging the Public Service Commission to develop a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) rule requiring utilities to produce 20% of their electricity from renewable energy resources by 2020.

Last year, the Florida Legislature directed the Commission to develop a rule, which would come back to them for ratification. After over a year of rule development workshops, the PSC forwarded a renewable energy rule to the Legislature for enactment into law. The governor’s renewable energy targets had the support of renewable energy developers, conservation groups and even the state’s largest utility.closedforbusiness

Fast-forward to May 1st, 2009 – last day of legislative session – no Florida RPS, no clean car rule, and a large “closed for renewable business” sign hung on the capitol building. The Governor made it clear that this piece of legislation was a priority – citizens came together and lobbied their elected officials to create a green economy that could retool the over 900,000 unemployed in the state and reinvigorate local economies. How could this bill fail?

The dirty truth
Earlier in the session, the Senate produced their version of the RPS (SB1154), which scaled back the PSC recommendations to a 15% target for true renewables. Their proposal allowed nuclear and clean coal technology to account for an additional 5%, which of course had no place in an RPS – but at least allowed a starting point for the debate.

At this point the ball was in the House’s court – it was up to them to either adopt the Senate bill, make modifications to SB 1154’s or create their own version. After weeks of inaction, Representative Dean Cannon of Winter Park – who is designated to be Speaker of the House in 2011 – stunned everyone by sponsoring an offshore drilling proposal on the 50th day of the 60-day session.

The Senate refused to consider the drilling proposal that would bring rigs in state waters 3-10 miles from the beach. Because of the Senate’s stance, Dean Cannon and other allies in the House such as Reps. Will Weatherford, Baxter Troutman and Seth McKeel held the RPS hostage in hopes of convincing opponents of offshore oil drilling and that the RPS would only move in a trade for oil drilling. In the final hours of the session, the Governor even paid an unexpected visit to Cannon and to no avail – the clean energy bill including all that it promised for Florida died.

So what happens next?
Governor Crist announced his bid for the U.S. Senate this past week. Many are concerned that his clean energy agenda may fall to the wayside. The current Speaker of the House, Larry Cretul, does not have an interest or any expertise on energy – leaving Dean Cannon with much influence and power over the House to move his, fossil fuel agenda. The silver lining is that we’ve laid a grassroots foundation in Florida to work to pass a Federal RPS this year! Despite the inaction of the Fla. State House – we have other promising chances to create a green economy that will not only retool Florida’s nearly 10% unemployed, but also the country.

Join us in our efforts to pass strong Federal climate and energy legislation and become part of the Florida Climate Alliance.

Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has over 35 years of experience affecting positive change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as…
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