By KEITH LAING
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
COCOA, Fla., July 7, 2010…….Florida power companies will produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources in a decade if Lawton “Bud” Chiles is elected governor, Chiles said Wednesday after touring the University of Central Florida’s Solar Energy Center.
Speaking with reporters in front of a series of solar panels at the Cocoa facility, Chiles said he would put muscle behind the plan that had once been pushed by the man he hopes to replace in the Governor’s Manson: Gov. Charlie Crist. The outgoing governor had vocally supported the proposed renewable energy standard after taking office in 2007, signing an executive order calling for it in his first six months in office, but then did little as the plan languished in the Legislature the last two years.
Chiles, son of former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Lawton Chiles, said Tuesday if he follows in his father’s footsteps this November by being elected, the plan will get a renewed push.
“I’m for a 20 percent reduction by 2020,” he told reporters. “That’s achievable. If we retrofit three percent of our houses a year, which we can do, that savings alone is like $300 million a year in energy cost and that’s 40,000 jobs. You multiply that out by 10 times what we can do over 10 years and you can see the significance of this for our economy and our environment.”
To win support for the renewable standard in 2009 from reluctant lawmakers in the Senate, the late Sen. Jim King included nuclear technology, which was a bitter pill to swallow for supporters, who had fought the classification at the Public Service Commission. But Chiles said Wednesday that nuclear should not be part of the energy solution.
“There’s a lot of problems with nuclear,” he said. “There’s disposal problems, there’s insurance problems, there’s siting problems. Before I would to do nuclear in Florida, I’d want to get serious about conservation, because if we can incent the utilities to do conservation we can save enough power that we don’t have to build another coal plant. Nuclear’s not going to create the jobs for Florida that doing conservation and renewable will.”
Chiles included the renewable energy mandate, which was approved by the Florida Senate in 2009 but not taken up that year or this session by the House, in an energy plan he unveiled Wednesday. Also included on Chiles’ energy agenda is the creating of a $100 million renewable loan program, which he said could be funded by the savings from increased energy conservation, and restoring the Florida Solar Rebate program, which had once been boosted by $15 million in state money.
“We’ve let the solar rebate expire, which is crazy,” he said. “We’ve got 11,000 people that are trying to get a solar rebate. For every one we do, we’re saving (carbon dioxide) going into the environment and saving energy bills to prevent having to build a new coal plant or a new power plant.”
Chiles, a no-party affiliation candidate who polls show within shouting distance of presumptive Democratic nominee Alex Sink, tied his energy plans into his populist gubernatorial campaign. Chiles recently called for a grand jury investigation into the nomination process for utility regulators at the Florida Public Service Commission after four members of the panel were ousted by lawmakers and he has hammered power companies in speeches, though critics have pointed out he worked for utility companies in the early 1990s.
“What we’re doing right now is crazy,” Chiles said. “Just because it works for the utility rate base and because they have power in the Legislature, we’re not going on with what we need to do. That’s why you’re not hearing other candidates talk about this aggressively, because they’ve got too many contributions. I’m going to speak boldly and strongly about this as I go around the state, because I think this is one of the fundamental things we need to do to get our economy going.”
Speaking last week at a Clean Energy Congress convened last week in Tallahassee, Sink expressed support for efforts to increase renewable energy, though she would not commit to supporting the renewable energy standard if she became governor, citing cost concerns.
“I think it’s something we have to look at,” she said. “We have to evaluate the impact. (I’m) very conscientious about any possible rate impact upon Floridians.”
Republican gubernatorial candidates Bill McCollum and Rick Scott have been largely silent on the renewable plan, focusing on issues more popular with their party’s political base, like immigration and spending.
Chiles said Tuesday that the renewable energy standard could be paid for by upping conservation, though the plans introduced in the Legislature the last two years would have allowed for rates to increase up to 2 percent.
“(The Florida Solar Energy) Center could actually be a catalyst for creating new technology, for creating better solar panels that are more efficient and cost effective,” he said Tuesday during his tour of the facility. “There are now…10 houses being produced that are zero-energy houses. Not 80 percent reduction, but 100 percent reduction.
These houses are paying for themselves in five or six years. And they’re creating tons of jobs. So why are we just building 10, why aren’t we building tens of thousands, if we can actually save energy, save our environment and create jobs?
“It’s because we have to stand up to the power of the utilities and get going with conservation and renewable,” he concluded.
He added that the Gulf Coast oil spill increased the urgency for enacting the renewable energy standard, echoing arguments made last week by supporters at the Clean Energy Congress.
“We have no bigger example of the problem with carbon-based fuels then the toxic cloud that’s in the Gulf,” he said. “That didn’t start when the oil started gushing, that started when large contributions bought lax regulation.”