Representatives from Winter Park testify in front of the Sarasota City Commission

Calling Florida Power & Light the “cleanest” utility “in the nation,” a representative of the Environmental Defense Fund recently warned the City of Sarasota that ending its franchise agreement with FPL and forging its own municipal utility may not necessarily shrink the city’s carbon footprint.

The testimony revealed tensions over cap-and-trade legislation between the EDF and the Florida Municipal Electric Association, which represents government-owned utilities across the state, and that is “heavily dominated by coal” according to the EDF rep.

Jerry Karnas, director of the EDF’s Florida Climate Project, delivered the comments at a June 16 special session of the City Commission dedicated to hearing input from Florida energy experts and the public about the city’s ongoing negotiations with FPL over renewing its 30-year agreement with the utility. (You can watch the entire special session here; Karnas’ comments come at the 2:59 mark.)

“I just wanted to ensure that as this moves forward that the environmental result is prominent,” said Karnas, who registered as a lobbyist for the EDF last year. “It would not be a fair trade-off in our view to create some clean-energy jobs but then make Sarasota’s carbon footprint dirtier by going to the wholesale market.”

Karnas — who did not respond to requests for comment by The Florida Independent — argued that Sarasota would encounter a “cultural difference” with the 34 other municipal utilities that make up the FMEA. He credited the City of Gainesville for leadership in creating its popular feed-in tariff program, which allows residents to sell renewable energy they generate back to the utility, but also pointed out that “not one other muni in Florida has followed their lead.”

Municipal advocates say Karnas’ testimony distorts how government-run utilities make decisions about their energy consumption. If Sarasota does choose to buy out FPL’s infrastructure and run its own utility, it would be up to city leaders, not the FMEA, to determine the source of the city’s energy — and, consequently, how carbon-neutral that energy is. “When it comes to power supply, if the City of Sarasota bought its poles and wires they’d have to look for a generator,” says the FMEA’s Moline. “More than likely, they would choose FPL.”

Moline calls Karnas’ comments on this point “misinformed,” and suggests Karnas is critical of the FMEA because of disputes between his organization and the EDF over federal cap-and-trade legislation. The FMEA wants any new law to include a limit on costs for emitters, a proposal the EDF opposes.

FPL CEO Armando Olivera has stood “shoulder-to-shoulder” with Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman in their efforts to put together a climate bill, said Karnas, who served on Gov. Charlie Crist’s Action Team on Energy and Climate Change with Olivera.

“Why does FPL stand ’shoulder-to-shoulder’ with the Environmental Defense Fund?” Moline says, before answering his own question: FPL’s energy portfolio — which includes natural gas and nuclear — would allow it to sell carbon credits under a cap-and-trade system. Moline says the company’s motivation is “totally financial.”

“The only utility in Florida that has not only supported it but is actively pushing the federal climate legislation is Florida Power & Light,” Karnas added at the Sarasota meeting.

“Saying that we don’t support action on climate change is a complete misrepresenation of our position,” Moline says, adding, “Jerry is bombastic. He likes to say big and bold things and leave out the details.”

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