NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: Climate Commish Debates Relevance Amid Energy Efficiency Discussion
Jul 23, 2009
An every five-year discussion of state energy efficiency standards devolved Wednesday into an frenetic debate about the effectiveness of the Florida Energy & Climate Commission.
Eager to do its part amid increasing talk about conserving energy, the Energy and Climate Commission met to discuss the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act – which requires a twice a decade review of efficiency standards – via conference call, its third consecutive electronic gathering. But after the panel took no position on the review despite hearing lengthy testimony from the environmental and utility lobbies, Commissioner Debra Harrison said the Climate Commission needed a new forecast.
“This body is becoming very ineffective,” she said after Climate Commission Executive Director Jeremy Susac suggested the panel not take a position until after the Public Service Commission holds hearings on the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act. “We’re not doing things, we’re not having a role and we’re certainly not carrying out the role set forth by the (governor’s) Climate Action Team.”
Harrison argued that the Energy & Climate Commission, which had been identified as an intervening party in the PSC’s FEECA proceeding, was not taking advantage of the opportunity to advocate for the purpose behind its founding: more aggressive energy standards in the state. But Susac said the Climate Commission was a “neutral body” that should not be in the business of pushing for more energy aggression.
“There is disagreement among the parties,” Susac said in response to Harrison’s frustration about inconsistent interpretations of the energy efficiency efforts of Florida power companies. “The PSC has a five day hearing coming up to sort that out and I think at the end of that, we can make a comment that will be binding.”
Harrison disagreed with Susac’s slow and steady approach, saying that not taking positions on issues such as the FEECA, even if they may be controversial, was a dereliction of the duties that were given to the Climate Commission by the governor and Legislature. The climate commission was created in 2008 and is housed within the Executive Office of the Governor.
“We have a philosophical difference between the executive director and (myself and) maybe some of the other members,” she said. “We have a statutory responsibility and that does not define us as a neutral party.”
Harrison was joined in her dismay over the current state of the Energy & Climate Commission by fellow Commissioner Kathy Baughman McLeod, who said the format of the meetings was as big of a problem as what happened once they began.
“There is a thick layer of frustration over having to have these calls,” McLeod said. “I cannot say enough about our inability to be effective on the phone. We need to be meeting in person to get things done.”
Climate Commission Chairman James Murley sought to referee the energetic dispute, acknowledging the limitations of the conference calls but also asking for patience as the panel grows more established.
“We’re in the first year of our existence and we’re trying our best to abide by the guidelines and make contributions; we’re going to have additional discussions in August,” Murley said. “The conference calls are not well-suited for this kind of philosophical discussion of where we are and where we’re going. We’re having to be cognizant of where we’re going and our desire to be relevant.”
Murley also said at the beginning of the conference call that the panel might soon meet again in person. The Energy & Climate Commission last convened in March, though its conference calls have been broadcasted in the Toni Jennings Room of the Senate Office Building.
But after a 10 minute wait for eight of the commission’s members to get clear telephone connections – Commissioner Nicholas Gladding’s absence was excused – Murley also said that the conference calls were frustrating.
“We all recognize that while this is an efficient way to communicate and it conserves our carbon footprint, it would be good to have some face-to-face interaction,” Murley said from his home.
Murley said he had discussed the meeting situation with Crist’s Deputy Chief of Staff Kathy Mears, who said the governor’s office was considering allowing the commission to meet the day before a possible fall energy summit or would look at a fall meeting in a central location like Orlando.
The discussion about the conference calls and of the futility of the Energy & Climate Commission almost obscured a meaty agenda that included an update for members on Workforce Florida’s Green Jobs initiative and an update on federal stimulus money as well as the FEECA discussion. Prior to deciding to forgo taking a stand on the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act, the Climate Commission heard from John Wilson of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and former PSC Commissioner Terry Deason, who now lobbies on behalf of the publicly-owned utilities.
Predictably, Wilson and Deason offered differing assessments of the power companies’ efficiency and conservation efforts, with Wilson saying Florida “was middle to back of the pack” and Deason saying he did not “accept the premise that Florida isn’t a leader” because the four of the state utilities were in the top seven greenhouse gas reducers in the Southeast.
“Some jurisdictions are showing higher cost savings because they are newcomers to the game,” Deason told the commission. “Florida’s utilities have consistently made adjustments and do what’s right regardless of what the goal is.”
Wilson agreed that there were energy efficiency success stories in Florida, citing the Reedy Creek Improvement District that powers Walt Disney World and Gainesville Regional Utilities as effective conservationists. But Wilson said it was important to keep the pressure on the larger power companies in the state
“I have the perspective that Florida can do more and should more,” Wilson told the panel. “The question is are we prepared to do so in this proceeding? I believe that if we act hastily today, that is going to lead to decades of wasted energy.”
The Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act, which was adopted in 1980, is reviewed by the PSC every five years.
Detailed context on Florida energy issues is available on the NSF Energy Backgrounder at http://www.newsserviceflorida.com/energy/energy.htm
Independent and Indispensable