Gov. Charlie Crist on Friday won an important victory in his plans to slash Florida's greenhouse gas emissions and boost renewable energy.
The Florida Public Service Commission unanimously agreed to require the state's utilities to generate 20 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2020, resisting industry efforts to weaken Crist's goal. The vote sets the agenda for state legislators, who will have the final say later this year.
"That's great!" Crist said, when told about the targets Friday evening in Miami. "I am overjoyed. I praise their courage."
The vote marked a milestone in the energy initiatives Crist first announced in 2007. The commission had considered proposals with deadlines as late as 2050, which won support from utilities and outrage from environmentalists. On Friday evening, the commissioners decided that only an aggressive target would spur the state's energy industry into action.
"I have always insisted that it needed to be 20 by 2020 if we're going to get real," said Commissioner Nancy Argenziano.
The targets are a sharp change of course for a state that gets less than 3 percent of its power from renewable energy. The proposal calls for 7 percent renewable energy by January 2013, 12 percent by 2016, 18 percent by 2019 and 20 percent by end of 2020.
"I see it as a stretch goal, but I also see that as part of the purpose," said Commissioner Lisa Polak Edgar.
Environmentalists spent months trying to counter lobbying by utilities to include "clean" coal and nuclear power in the renewable definition. They had decried the drawn-out time lines as timid, and pushed the commission to stick with the 2020 goal. On Friday, they reacted with delight.
"This is a tremendous victory," said Jerry Karnas, Florida climate project director for the Environmental Defense Fund, who commended the commissioners. Now, the Legislature must be persuaded to follow their lead, he said.
"We're thrilled with the time line and targets," said George Cavros, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "We think those targets will drive renewable energy in Florida and create green jobs in Florida."
The proposal includes consumer protections to limit electric rate increases, and carves out a slice of the goal that must be met with wind and solar power. It bars "clean" coal from the definition, but opens the door to the possible inclusion of new nuclear power in a modified "clean energy" goal supported by Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light. Both utilities plan to build nuclear plants in the next decade.
Times staff writer Craig Pittman contributed to this report. Asjylyn Loder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 225-3117.