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Senate Committee Chair Says Energy Bill Unlikely
to Include Renewable Mandate

Renewable energy can be competitive with traditional power to create jobs and avoid increases in electric bills for customers, researchers from Georgia Tech and Duke University told a Senate panel on Monday.

The Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities is working on a bill that would encourage renewable energy and diversify the state's energy supply, said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R - Wellington and committee chair. She said doesn't expect the bill to contain a renewable energy requirement for utilities.

Investments in energy efficiency in Florida could create 94,100 jobs by 2030, researchers told the committee. Public and private investments of $744 million by 2030 would reduce electricity and natural gas bills by $9.1 billion during the same period.

Florida already is producing five times more energy from burning wood than most other southern states, according to the study. The Florida Public Service Commission says renewable energy now accounts for about 2 percent of the state's electric-generating capacity.

Aggressive policies and a renewable energy requirement on utilities could help Florida receive 20 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030, the researchers said. A federal cap-and-trade program could increase that amount of renewable energy to 29 percent by 2030.

"The economics are very complicated," Etan Gumerman, senior policy associate with Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, said after the meeting. "They [renewables] can be competitive in various situations."

The Senate in 2009 adopted a 15 percent renewable energy requirement (with another 5 percent nuclear) but the House refused to take up that requirement. Last year the House adopted a bill that allowed utilities to recover up to $380 million from customers for renewable projects, but the Senate didn't approve that bill.

Twenty-nine states have such renewable energy standards, and the Florida Public Service Commission recommended a 20 percent standard in 2009. But Benacquisto said the bill that the committee will consider in a workshop in upcoming weeks likely will not have one.

"We've all committed to not raising taxes and fees," Benacquisto said. "I think there are other ways to incentivize that type of activity."

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott has proposed eliminating the Governor's Energy Office and the Florida Energy and Climate Commission. The governor's proposed 2011-12 budget recommendations call for moving those functions into the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Scott has said he supports energy independence and expanding nuclear energy, but his views on energy policy are largely unknown. Asked by Benacquisto to outline the governor's long-term energy policies, Sean T. Miles, executive director of the Governor's Energy Office, said the governor supports energy policies that create jobs and economic development.

"There is no specific energy policy in the works or anything, but he wants overall energy policy to create economic development and jobs," Miles said. "That's the main focus of what we are going to be pursuing."
   
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