The Florida Senate energy panel voted to introduce a utility-backed energy bill that would allow power companies to charge customers for the cost of building large solar installations and other renewable energy projects within certain limits.

Some environmentalists and solar industry representatives supported the bill, saying it would finally give the state a policy to spur renewable energy development, but others noted that it fails provide for small-scale “distributed” solar energy projects, which the large power companies generally oppose.

Eric Draper of Audubon of Florida said the measure was “long overdue,” and that the solar installations built by Florida Power & Light under a limited “cost recovery” plan proved the policy is an effective way to get new solar projects online.

Jack Sullivan of the Florida Research Consortium said that because the large private utilities account for a majority of the energy produced in Florida, they will be essential to switching the state over to renewables and attracting the industries that produce them, which are looking to expand in the United States.

“The challenge is: Where is it going to be? Is it going to be somewhere else or is it going to be in Florida?” he said.

Bruce Kershner of the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association said that distributed power would help create jobs in construction trades that have been devastated by Florida’s economic downturn. Plumbers, roofers and electricians could be put to work installing rooftop solar panels.

Susan Glickman of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said that getting Florida to get the maximum amount of renewable power for the best price also requires competition.

A bill introduced late last year would have allowed anyone who installs solar panels to be reimbursed for the surplus energy they produce at the same rates as major utilities. The measure could essentially allow giant retail stores, with their large, flat roofs, to compete with utilities on a small scale. Several senators, including Evelyn Lynn, R-Daytona Beach, said that approach was at least worth looking into.

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