TALLAHASSEE — A House committee approved a bill Friday that uses tax breaks, government-backed loans and $400 million of electricity rate hikes in a try to spark a renewable energy revolution in Florida and curb the use of dirty fossil fuels.
The bill, approved 10-1 by the House Energy and Utilities Policy Council, was hailed by House supporters for encouraging the voluntary development of solar energy, biomass and other clean energy sources without requiring electric companies to adhere to expensive mandates to lower fossil fuel consumption.
Environmentalists called it a good first step, but lamented the lack of a renewable-energy standard that other states have used to force a cleanup of the way electric companies produce power.
"It's a step forward, but it's not creating the certainty in the market that we'd like to see to encourage investment in renewables," said Susan Glickman, lobbyist for the Southern Alliance of Clean Energy.
But the loudest critic was a lobbyist for utility companies, Terry Deason. The former chairman of the Public Service Commission represents Florida Power & Light, Progress Energy, Tampa Electric and Gulf Power.
His complaint wasn't about the $400 million the measure allows the companies to charge customers to develop 735 megawatts of solar power, but the requirement that it buy electricity from companies that generate power by burning biomass — plant and animal materials — at 80 percent of what it cost the companies to generate it. Companies such as Florida Crystals, Waste Management, Mosaic and Covanta Energy want the provision.
"There's unintended negative consequences," Deason said, arguing that power companies would have to overpay for electricity, resulting in higher rates.
The bill's passage in the committee was a watershed moment for the House, which has debated but rejected renewable energy bills since Gov. Charlie Crist called for the measures shortly after taking office. He sought a renewable energy standard that would require electric companies to increase their use of renewable energy by 20 percent by 2020, up from 2.5 percent today.
Crist hopes to sign into law a bill that provides at least 735 megawatts in extra solar energy to power companies.
The House proposal calls for spending $7.5 million in renewable energy incentives, lets the state use federal stimulus money for a loan-guarantee program for companies developing alternative energy and allows more companies to install rooftop solar panels to generate their own power.
A similar bill is expected to be heard next week in the Senate.