By KEITH LAING
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Nov. 18, 2010…….There may be more room for advances in renewable energy under Gov.-elect Rick Scott than his anti-regulation stance may suggest, supporters say, even if the new Florida chief executive is unlikely to get behind a mandate for power companies once pushed by his predecessor.
Even as they continue to consider launching a petition for a 2012 constitutional amendment, supporters of a proposed requirement that renewables eventually make up 20 percent of energy use said Thursday that they were not giving up on the Scott administration before it begins.
With the governor-elect likely to focus heavily on fulfilling his campaign mantra of getting the state to work, Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper told the News Service that Scott may be receptive to increasing the amount of renewable energy in Florida in ways other than the controversial mandate.
“They’ve kind of boxed this issue in, which makes the renewable portfolio standard difficult…but there’s a chance he may see it as opportunity for job creation if there was some sort of incentive (approach),” Draper said. “The policy that comes closest to that is the one the House passed last (session), which tilted forward solar.”
And a spokesman for Scott confirmed the interest, at least, including developing “clean energy technologies” in a list of energy interests for the incoming administration.
“The goals of Gov-elect Scott’s administration with regards to energy will be to provide a stable regulatory environment, develop long-term, high-paying jobs in clean energy technologies, increase energy independence for Florida’s economic benefit, security and environmental responsibilities, protect ratepayers and maintain affordable rates for residents and businesses throughout Florida, and ensure that a free market drives the diversification on our energy portfolio,” said Scott transition spokesman Trey Stapleton.
The bill that passed the House this year would have allowed power companies to recover costs for renewable projects without the approval of the Public Service Commission. It fell apart in the Senate over debates about whether nuclear energy should be included.
Environmentalists know that renewable quotas likely won’t fly with either Scott, or the new Legislature.
“The sun’s not shining on them,” Draper said of anyone holding out for such a quota under a Scott administration and the current Legislature. “They’re wasting their energy.”
“We want to stay in the (RPS) coalition, but we’re very much in favor of doing what we can and getting panels up,” he said.
Clean and renewable energy backers said they may get some help from Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon. Before the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this summer, the new legislative leaders famously pushed the Legislature to expand offshore oil drilling, which was anathema to environmentalists.
But Haridopolos appeared at a clean energy conference this summer to say he was ready to “turn the page” from drilling, signaling a willingness to listen to renewable ideas that had not characterized past debates in the Legislature.
“Dean (Cannon) and I tried to take the conventional route. We tried to look at oil and natural gas production in the Gulf,” he said in July at a Clean Energy Summit sponsored by Citizens for Clean Energy. “We trusted that, at least in my lifetime…there had not been a major spill. But guess what? Things change. We went to verify the scenario and it didn’t work for Floridians. So we need to try the unconventional way, the alternative way.”
One of the first measures approved by the Cannon-and-Haridopolos-led Legislature during a special session this week allocated $31.3 million in federal stimulus money to pay property owners who installed energy efficient air-conditioning systems or made solar energy improvements.
Florida Business Network for a Clean Energy Economy Director Susan Glickman said the twin developments provided hope for the future, even under the more conservative government Cannon and Haridopolos have promised to help Scott deliver.
“Advancing clean energy technology in the state of Florida is a non-partisan issue,” Glickman said, though she acknowledged Democrats have been friendlier to the proposals in recent years. “Anyone who had taken even a passing interest in the campaign saw jobs was on everyone’s agenda. Anyone who’s going to take this on is going to have to look at clean technology.”
The conventional wisdom is that it likely would have been better for renewable energy supporters if Sink had won the governor’s race. However, Glickman said Cannon and Haridopolos’ ties to the Space Coast, which is bracing for the end of the federal space program, could be a saving grace for environmentalists.
“Because of what’s happening in the Space Coast, they’re looking for ways to keep Ph.D jobs and keep that well-trained workforce working,” she said. “There’s a lot of interest from that region, which happens to be represented by both Speaker Cannon and Senate President Haridopolos.”
Though she is optimistic about the prospects for renewable energy under the Scott administration, Glickman and other supporters of the renewable energy standard are still considering launching a petition drive for a 2012 constitutional amendment vote on the renewable standard. However, she said “a ballot initiative is only for when policymakers fail” to act.
“We would rather work with the leadership and the new governor rather than have to go the route of putting it on the ballot,” Glickman said.