Monday, June 25, 2018
Business

St. Petersburg lawmaker seeks major changes to Florida energy policy

A St. Petersburg lawmaker wants to end the public utility monopoly on selling power to consumers, as well as open competition for development of renewable energy in Florida. If successful, the move could ignite a wave of solar power installations in the state.

Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, is proposing two constitutional amendments that would repeal the 2006 nuclear cost recovery clause — which forces customers to pay in advance for nuclear power projects that may or may not get built — and create a market to allow renewable energy producers to sell directly to consumers.

Dudley is drafting House resolutions for the two proposed amendments and also plans a citizens' ballot initiative if the Legislature does not act. Both have enormous hurdles: The Legislature generally acts to preserve the utilities' monopoly control in Florida; getting a citizens' initiative on the ballot would require more than 600,000 signatures.

Current Florida law prohibits any entity other than utilities from selling power directly to consumers.

That law has hampered the expansion of solar energy among retailers, the military and industrial power users.

Owners of a mall, for instance, could not install solar on the roof and sell that power to tenants. A military base with solar could not share power or experience cost savings at another nearby facility.

Other states have adopted renewable energy portfolio standards or energy policies that enable more widespread development of solar and wind energy.

Florida has no significant renewable energy policy and is quickly falling behind Georgia and North Carolina in the Southeast as well as New Jersey, Massachusetts and Vermont in the North.

"When it comes to energy policy, Florida is in the Stone Age," Dudley said. "How is it that New Jersey is ahead of the Sunshine State when it comes to renewables?

"Twenty-nine states have adopted renewable portfolio standards and eight others have renewable energy goals," he said. "A majority of the country is incorporating technologies like solar, wind and biomass because they make economic sense."

Dudley is part of a work group organized by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor that is seeking ways to revamp Florida energy policy with an eye toward renewable energy.

"Floridians will welcome the competition," said Susan Glickman, a lobbyist from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "Florida lawmakers have allowed energy policy to lock out solar as a resource."

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the state's point person on energy matters, has told solar proponents that "we're not going to follow other states' leads."

Putnam did not immediately respond to request for comment about Dudley's proposal.

Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332.

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