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Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam hopes to diversify Florida's energy

Adam Putnam is commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which includes the Office of Energy, the primary organization overseeing state energy and climate change programs and policies. Florida Trend recently talked to Putnam about energy issues in Florida.

What are the top energy issues facing the state?

I'd like to see the state increase its fuel diversity. I'd like to see us expand our fleet of natural gas-powered vehicles. I'd like to see us finish out some of the private-sector ethanol projects that are under way, and I'd like to see us develop a long-term blueprint for Florida's energy needs that has buy-in from the business sector, political sector and the utilities.

You've talked before about the need for conservation efforts. In your travels around the state, have you come across any businesses with notable conservation efforts?

Mosaic's new headquarters (in FishHawk Ranch), Darden's new headquarters (in Orlando), Publix's new headquarters, the Orlando utilities building. We see JM Family Enterprises installing solar panels on rooftops of dealerships. So there are a number of businesses making a business decision to incorporate smart conservation techniques into their daily operations.

What do you see as the logical progression of alternative/renewable energy here in Florida?

I view energy policy as an all-of-the-above approach. I am not singularly focused on renewable. I believe we need an array of options for energy production for electricity and for mobile fuels in a peninsular state — and that means that diversity is important. Reliability is critical in a state that has record amounts of lightning strikes, is susceptible to hurricanes, tornadoes and other things that jeopardize reliability. And, of course, to be competitive, affordability is important, and so a logical progression would be that the state's current reliance on natural gas will continue because of the affordability of that fuel.

It is my hope that our nuclear projects will get back on track because they are long-term, zero-fuel-cost technologies that also have zero emissions. From a national perspective that affects Florida, it would be nice to get clean coal back on track and that as we continue to see price fall on renewables like solar, that we will see greater market demand for those. The enormous game change for energy policy has been the discovery of new technologies that unlocked anywhere from 100 to 150 years of natural gas production for North America. And while that is attractive in the sense that it is domestic and now affordable, it still is only arriving in our state via two pipelines, so as we increase our reliance on natural gas, it's important for us to diversify how we get natural gas here.

There's been growing opposition to advanced financing of nuclear power projects across the state after delays in the proposed Levy County nuclear project have added billions to the price tag. At the same time, structural damage to the Crystal River nuclear plant and fumbled repairs have cost millions, and it's unclear if that plant will ever reopen. Do these problems cast doubt on the future of nuclear energy in Florida?

Taxpayers are angry at paying for something that may never come to fruition. In getting nuclear back on track, the goal is ratepayers would be paying for something that would come to fruition and that will over the long term provide low-cost electricity in addition to natural gas-fired plants. Nuclear in the long haul is the cheapest, but clearly it's very expensive on the front end.

This article originally appeared in Florida Trend magazine. To read other Florida Trend stories and interviews, go to floridatrend.com.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam hopes to diversify Florida's energy 08/25/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 25, 2012 4:32am]

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