With high gas prices and energy a defining issue for the nation and for Florida, you would think state utility regulators would move at all speed to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. But the latest proposal for renewable energy, while better than goals put forward earlier this year, is a swing and a miss. The Public Service Commission needs to get serious.
Never has the environmental, economic and political climate been so attractive to promote the development of alternative energies. Last year, Gov. Charlie Crist, in a series of executive orders, called on Florida to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and to generate up to 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar. Diversifying the energy supply and reducing America's dependence on foreign oil also have emerged as major economic and national security issues. That's why the PSC staff recommendation is so disappointing.
Crist has proposed that 20 percent of all power come from renewable sources by 2020. But the PSC staff recommends that the commission set the bar much lower. Renewables make up about 4 percent of available power now, and the staff recommends bumping that figure to 5 percent by 2017, 10 percent by 2025 and 15 percent by 2033. Florida would not reach the governor's goal of 20 percent until 2041. That timetable is too little, too late.
Florida needs to be reasonable, given how far behind it is and the costs that this plan would pass on to consumers. But the targets also need to be ambitious enough to encourage the utilities to act and spur new investment by the private sector. Under this plan, utilities would not have to meet any targets until 2017 at the earliest, and loopholes could delay their participation for years. Even though power companies could recoup their costs, they could forgo renewables if the cost exceeded 2 percent of their annual revenue. That amounts to about $2.40 per month for the average homeowners' bill. Critics point out that of the 19 states that limit renewable costs, the average cap on costs is 4 percent of annual revenue, or twice what the PSC staff proposed for Florida.
The commission, which takes up the proposal Tuesday, should instruct the staff to develop a recommendation that reflects greater urgency. There is time to do this right. An assessment of the technical and economic potential of renewable energy technology and the advances that could appear by 2020 is expected in December. The PSC has until February to recommend a course to the Legislature. The plan needs to be as ambitious as this unprecedented opportunity to address climate change in the nation's fourth-largest state.