Key proposal left out of Senate energy bill

Jan 30, 2012

The following article was published in The Florida Current on January 30, 2012:

Key proposal left out of Senate energy bill

By Bruce Ritchie

A key proposal by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam to encourage renewable energy production was left out of a Senate committee bill filed Monday.

The House and Senate for the past three years have failed to agree on broad legislation that supporters said would create jobs by encouraging the development of solar energy.

Putnam this month outlined what he described as modest recommendations to show that the House and Senate can pass an energy bill. He said the goal was to reduce regulatory barriers and encourage energy diversity without government picking “winners and losers.”

However,  his recommendation to allow utilities to charge more for projects of up to 75 megawatts was left out of SB 7202, as industry groups already have signaled concerns about increasing costs for ratepayers.

“The overarching premise of this bill is no rate increase for ratepayers,” Matthew M. Carter II, staff director for the Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities, told senators. “I hope you guys heard me on that: no rate increase for ratepayers.”

Putnam’s energy office had not estimated the cost of the proposal. But Patrick Sheehan, director of the office, said last week the department would work with legislative staff if requested to develop cost estimates.

The Manufacturers Association of Florida last year joined with the Florida Retail Federation, AARP and other groups to help kill bills that would have allowed utilities to charge more for renewable energy.

“I’m glad that is not in there;  I don’t particularly like it,” said Nancy Stephens, executive director of the manufacturers group. But she said she needed to review the bill closer to comment further.

Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, said after the meeting that he hopes that amendments can be offered to strengthen the bill. His SB 1106 would exempt small solar energy producers from regulation under state law as utilities.

“We should not freeze them out of the process,” Altman said. “We should create an environment to encourage them to produce energy that is homegrown.”

SB 7202 directs the Public Service Commission  when it reviews proposed new projects to consider whether they will reduce the state’s dependance on natural gas. The bill also calls for restoring expired tax credits and conducting a comprehensive study of the state’s forest resources for use in biomass energy plants.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has raised concerns about asking the PSC to review the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act (FEECA). 

The group says the commission has failed to implement the law requirements for the state’s two largest utilities, Florida Power & Light Co. and Progress Energy. The PSC says it has leeway under the law to consider the effect on consumers of requiring utilities to implement costly conservation measures.

The legislation and Putnam’s proposal are a good start for having a conversation in Florida about energy, said Susan Glickman, of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

“Albeit it a small start, it is good to see leadership in this regard that can help consumers save money and farmers grow energy crops,” she said.

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