A newly formed coalition of alternative energy advocates is calling on the Florida legislature to act on several proposals during the upcoming special session, but lawmakers have said that action next week appears unlikely.
A newly formed coalition of alternative energy advocates is calling on the Florida Legislature to act on several proposals during the upcoming special session, but lawmakers have said that action next week appears unlikely. #
Peter Laughlin, president of the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy, one of the Florida Renewable Energy Business Coalition’s members, says the group was formed to allow the renewable energy industry to speak with a unified voice that stands a better chance of getting the ear of legislators. #
During this year’s regular session, measures to help private utilities recover costs with rate increases and to charge all of the state’s power customers a 25-cent monthly fee to fund renewable energy projects both failed, and funding for the state’s solar rebate program was allowed to expire. The coalition does not want lawmakers to wait until next spring to craft a renewable energy policy. #
Many of the state’s solar contractors support smaller, “distributed” projects for homes and businesses and have advocated for them for years, while large private utilities support bigger, centralized projects. Tensions between the two groups were on display at last week’s Clean Energy Summit, but many renewable energy advocates just want the two sides to get along. #
Al Simpler, a solar contractor based in Tallahassee, argues that the early adopters help drive down prices for others, which is why it’s important to start encouraging those investments now. As more rooftop panels come online, clusters of solar panels on the grid will generate electricity with increasing efficiency. #
Laughlin says that distributed power creates a market in which dozens of contractors like Simpler compete to drive down prices in a way that a handful of utilities cannot. #
Utilities maintain that their larger projects allow customers to save money with greater economies of scale. On its website, Florida Power & Light describes home solar installations as a “lifestyle choice,” and warns customers that they can be prohibitively expensive. #
Either way, the price of subsidizing solar power and other forms of renewable energy is bound to be passed on to customers. #
Speaking Thursday at the Sunshine State Renewable Energy Expo, state Sen. Lee Constantine summed up the nature of the impasse: “Who supports renewable energy? Everybody. Who supports paying for it? Nobody.” #
Constantine said utilities are the most well-organized of the political interests in the debate and have no choice but to act in their shareholders’ best interest, which means keeping costs down and profits up over the short term, even though investments in renewable energy can lead to savings over time as fossil fuels get more expensive. #
“We look at the bottom line next week. We don’t look at the next 10 or 20 years,” he said. #
MJ Soileau, UCF’s vice president for research, says large-scale projects will be essential to driving down prices and producing large amounts of solar energy. #
“You can’t get to terawatts by doing it kilowatts at a time,” he says, but large installations can be a complement to distributed power. “I’m in favor of both.” #
Both sides agree that there isn’t much time to waste. As federal legislation shifts its emphasis from a price on carbon to renewable energy requirements similar to the renewable portfolio standards that have failed during recent legislative sessions, there’s a greater onus on Florida to act quickly if it wants to attract solar manufacturers and achieve a comparative advantage that will allow the state to export homegrown solar technology and expertise. #
Laughlin says the most urgent priorities are to restore funding to Florida’s solar rebate program and to pass property tax exemptions for renewable projects, both of which help make solar installations cost-effective for customers. But the overarching goal needs to be a comprehensive renewable energy policy, which has languished in the Legislature for several years. #
The rebate program currently has more than $42 million in unpaid claims, of which roughly a third have been approved to be paid once the program’s funding is restored, according to the governor’s office. #
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Larry Cretul (who told fellow lawmakers to expect a short stay in Tallahassee next week) says the session will be focused on issues directly related to offshore drilling, while state Sen. Mike Bennet says he will be interested in hearing energy proposals during a separate session in the fall, a prospect that appears increasingly likely. #
Laughlin says he hasn’t given up on the legislature taking action next week, but one way or another, the lawmakers should not wait until the next regular session to act. Solar distributors and manufacturers are seeing Florida’s political paralysis and opting to locate their businesses out west, where several states have already passed renewable energy standards. #
“We’re losing ground every single day,” he says. #
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