Will legislators go clean and green?

In July 2007, Gov. Charlie Crist became an unlikely environmental hero when he defied the conservative wing of his party and became the first Southeastern governor to forge a plan to combat climate change. Crist announced plans to slash greenhouse gas emissions and boost renewable energy. To make the plan a reality, he needed help from state regulators and lawmakers, who faced entrenched opposition from the state's business and industry leaders. Since the summit, a new energy policy has been hammered out behind the scenes. This year, key pieces of that policy head to the Legislature. If approved, they will revolutionize Florida's energy industry. Intensive lobbying by both sides has already begun. Overshadowing state efforts, newly minted President Obama has promised swift federal action on energy issues. Ultimately, what the Legislature decides this year may only be a prelude to a new national policy. What Florida decides this year could provide leverage and guidance to federal lawmakers looking for support from the South.

The California Clean Car Rule: Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007 signed an executive order that would have brought Florida in line with a clean car rule adopted by California and at least a dozen other states. The rules tighten automobile emissions limits and increase mileage requirements. The Environmental Protection Agency, under the Bush administration, had blocked California's proposal. But President Obama recently cleared the way for the state policies to be considered.

• Last year, the Legislature successfully opposed Crist's efforts to join California. State Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda, inserted a last-minute amendment to the energy bill that prevented Crist or any state agency from adopting the rule without legislative approval.

• The state Environmental Regulatory Commission late last year approved the California clean car standard, handing an important victory to supporters of the rule. The Legislature will consider ratifying the commission's approval.

Renewable Portfolio Standard: In 2007, Gov. Charlie Crist signed an executive order that asked the commission that regulates the state's utilities to require 20 percent of electricity to come from renewable resources by 2020. However, the state Legislature, not the governor, sets policy for the Public Service Commission. In 2008, the Legislature asked the commission to examine renewable energy requirements and come up with a proposal that the Legislature will consider this year. The utility industry lobbied hard both in the Legislature and at the commission to weaken and dilute Crist's targets. In January, despite the industry's opposition, the commission voted unanimously to support Crist's 20 percent by 2020 goal. The commission has forwarded its proposal to the Legislature for approval.

• Utility lobbyists will likely push legislators to delay or weaken the renewable requirement.

• Led by Florida Power & Light, the utilities have proposed a "clean energy standard" that would include new nuclear power plants. FP&L and Progress Energy each plan to build two new reactors in the next decade.

• Renewable energy lobbying groups are pushing against a cost cap that limits how much a renewable energy project can cost compared to traditional fossil fuel projects. Utilities insist that the cap will protect consumers from soaring rates, while environmentalists say the cap will hinder renewable investment.

• Renewable energy groups are also pushing for a feed-in tariff that would require utilities to pay more for customer-generated renewable energy than customers pay for power from the grid. A similar German program has made that country a world leader in solar energy, and Gainesville recently adopted a feed-in tariff.

Lost in the jargon? A quick primer:

advanced cost recovery: The Legislature passed a bill in 2006 that allows utilities to charge customers for certain early costs of new nuclear or "clean" coal plants years before those projects start producing electricity. The utilities can charge up-front for land, site clearing, preconstruction, licensing and interest costs. They argue that it lowers the cost to customers in the long run by avoiding compounded interest on construction loans. Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light each started charging customers this year for new nuclear projects. Progress Energy is charging residential customers $11.42 per 1,000 kilowatt hours for its $17-billion nuclear project in Levy County. Outrage over Progress Energy's recent rate increase has led some Tampa Bay legislators to call for a suspension or reversal of the law. Progress Energy recently agreed to lower the nuclear charge to $7.80 per 1,000 kilowatt hours.

carbon cap and trade system: Refers to the system of capping greenhouse gas emissions and trading them in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Economists argue that such a system internalizes the cost of greenhouse gases that are believed to cause climate change, building emissions costs into the price of power. Essentially, companies have to pay to pollute. If they pollute too much and fail to secure enough credits, they can be fined. The state has begun developing cap-and-trade rules that are slated to be completed this year and sent to the Legislature for approval in 2010.

renewable energy credits: Called "RECs," these credits stand for an amount of electricity generated by renewable energy. Often equal to one megawatt hour, these credits can be bought and sold by utilities so a utility with a coal plant can buy RECs from a utility with a solar plant in order to meet renewable energy targets.

carbon credits: Similar to RECs, these credits stand for a measure of greenhouse gases, often one metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent. A registration system tracks how many tons of greenhouse gases a polluter emits. Each polluter has a cap it cannot exceed. If it does, it can buy credits from a company whose emissions were below the cap. Caps gradually decrease.

feed-in tariff: Describes a system pioneered in Germany where utilities pay a higher price for power generated from renewable resources like wind and solar than they charge for power from fossil fuels.

net-metering: Customers with renewable energy systems sell power to their utility for the same price as the power coming from the grid. In some instances, the electric meter will run backward when the customer generates more power than the home uses, and run forward when the home needs power from the grid.

renewable portfolio standard: Often called an "RPS," this refers to rules that would require utilities to get a certain percentage of their power from renewable resources.

Did you know?

that between now and 2025, Florida will...

... prevent the emissions 319-million metric tons of carbon dioxide if the state reaches targets of 20 percent renewable power by 2020.

... prevent the emissions of 50.4-million metric tons of carbon dioxide if the state improves the energy efficiency of homes and other residential buildings.

... see its greenhouse gas emissions climb to 463-million metric tons if the state does nothing to reduce emissions.

... prevent 49.4-million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by building four nuclear
reactors currently planned.

Source: Governor's Action Team on Energy and Climate Change

Will legislators go clean and green? 02/26/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 27, 2009 3:13pm]

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