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Senate plan lets utilities raise rates for renewable energy efforts

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Senate unveiled its plan Monday to allow Florida's electric companies to raise average customer bills $1.40 to $2.60 a month to build solar and biomass energy plants for the next five years.

But because the measure also allows the electric monopolies to control the renewable energy market by earning as much as $377 million a year in additional revenue, the proposal drew warnings that it will stifle jobs and hurt customers over time.

"We will go out of business,'' said Scott McIntyre, president of Solar Energy Management of St. Petersburg. "The Senate bill will not attract renewable energy to the state of Florida. It will not employ people."

By contrast, Josh Kellam of Global Energy United, a Virginia-based solar panel manufacturer, said his company will employ 250 to 300 people at its Rivera Beach plant if the bill passes.

Kent Crook, president of Wire Masters of Miami, a residential and commercial electrician, said that he has received a Workforce Florida grant to retrain his employees in installing solar energy panels but has had to stop using it "because there are no jobs."

He said the Senate bill won't do anything to change that. "This bill before you basically only supports FPL and not small-scale companies,'' he said.

Crook and dozens of other members of a coalition of renewable energy companies are urging legislators to modify the bill to allow companies, such as big-box retailers like Walmart, to install rooftop solar panels and sell the excess power generated to other consumers.

A draft of the Senate bill included such a provision when it was released two weeks ago but that element is strongly opposed by Florida Power & Light, principal promoter of the Senate bill.

Senate leaders pulled the bill, rewrote it, and stripped it of the measure to open the market to competitors to the utility companies.

"It was a technical glitch,'' said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, the chairwoman of the committee.

She said that while she is open to allowing other companies to generate electricity, they must be required to abide by the same requirements as the electricity companies "who are bound by an obligation to serve in any storm … they'll come out in any circumstance to repair the facilities on top of the roof."

The committee will take up amendments to the bill next week.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com.

Senate plan lets utilities raise rates for renewable energy efforts 03/28/11 [Last modified: Monday, March 28, 2011 9:50pm]

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