By KEITH LAING
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, March 18, 2010…… House legislation to let local governments issue bonds for retrofitting homes or businesses to be more energy efficient is appreciated by environmentalists, but not a substitute for a more aggressive energy policy they’d like to see.
The legislation (PCB EUP 10-03), which was approved this week by the House Energy & Utilities Policy Council, called Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, would allow municipalities to issue bonds backed by property assessments to homeowners and small businesses that would be paid back through a fee on recipients’ tax bills.
But another bill (SB 774, HB 1417) that would require publicly-regulated power companies in Florida to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable and clean energy sources, which was approved by the Senate last year but languished in the House, has not been taken up by the panel.
The difference has not been lost on environmentalists, who told the News Service of Florida Thursday that while the PACE bill was a valuable small step, it was not a replacement for the bill they have pushed for since Gov. Charlie Crist signed a 2007 executive order calling for a 20 percent carbon reduction by the year 2020.
“They are doing something (on energy),” Audubon of Florida deputy director Eric Draper told the News Service. “But the question is ‘are they doing 5 percent when they should be doing 100 percent?'”
Draper acknowledged the PACE proposal would create incentives for more renewable energy use, which could increase the market share of energy types such as solar and wind. But while those are also goals of the stalled RPS, he said that to allow individuals to borrow money to make their homes more energy efficient does nothing to increase the amount of renewable energy produced by the utilities.
“It’s a fine idea, but it is not a renewable policy,” Draper said. “Renewable policy means the electric utilities themselves are displacing current or proposed generation that uses fossil fuels with renewables.”
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy lobbyist Susan Glickman agreed, saying that while environmentalists welcome any tool to advance clean energy, only a renewable energy target like the one passed last year by the Senate could spur the type of market advocates say will create jobs in Florida.
“The idea of PACE financing, or what people call energy financing, is wonderful and a helpful, important funding mechanism to allow for financing solar and wind technology,” Glickman said. “It is in no way a substitute in terms of developing a robust renewable energy market in Florida.”
Like Draper, Glickman gave the House credit for trying to increase clean energy use, but she also said there was only one way to embrace a renewable future in Florida.
“In the House, there is an aversion to a mandate for renewable energy, so they’re looking at other incentives or policies that will increase clean energy,” she said. “But no matter how you cut it, it is imperative to have a target for renewables to create the certainty that drives the market and unleashes the investments which create jobs.”
The Florida Energy & Climate Commission included both PACE and “legislation creating renewable energy demand” in recommendations to the Legislature this week, though the panel said in a letter to House Speaker Larry Cretul that it “does not endorse a specific mechanism before the Legislature.”
FECC chairman James Murley identified renewable energy legislation, PACE bonds and expanding programs to finance clean technology as areas in the energy sector where the Legislature “should immediately act.”
“Florida has a tremendous opportunity to emerge as a leader in the clean technology economy because of our natural resource advantages, skilled workforce, and our business friendly environment,” Murley wrote in the letter. “Perhaps the greatest obstacle to Florida realizing our potential is time, as many projects will be break ground in the next couple of years. Your leadership can help the state to realize its potential and secure investments in this emerging sector through the enactment of targeted incentives and supportive regulatory policies.”
House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Boca Raton, has trumpeted PACE as a way to create demand for renewable energy in Florida, one of the key goals behind the renewable energy standard that has not been mentioned often this year. Hasner said the PACE measure was “innovative” way to achieve the goals of renewable energy advocates, though he did not mention the bill they have pushed since 2007.
“This does two very important things to make renewable energy more affordable,” he said in an interview Thursday. “It eliminates the upfront costs and reduces the long-term investment that is required, both of which are problems today. This is the type of innovation that will put Florida in the lead for promoting renewable energy.”
Hasner said that the PACE bill was a major component of House job creation efforts and said that he expected the proposal to move in the Senate too.
“There is widespread support in all of the stakeholder communities,” he said.
But he also highlighted the lack of a mandate in PACE, drawing a clear contrast with the renewable energy standard environmentalists have eyed for years.
“This is a no-mandate, non-subsidy, no-cost to government, consumer opt-in program,” he said, listing not only the reason the PACE program has support in the House, but the reasons environmentalists said Thursday it was an insufficient replacement for an RPS.