Florida Senate Hopes for House Action on Renewable Energy
Senator Jim King may be gone, but his fight for renewable energy is moving forward, slowly.
The Florida Senate will take what it can get on the bill to drastically increase the amount of electricity produced in Florida from renewable energy sources, the sponsor of last year’s failed effort said Monday.
Sen. Lee Constantine, R- Altamonte Springs, who has filed a measure (SB 774) that is basically the plan pushed last year by the late Sen. Jim King, acknowledged that the House has not shown any more interest in passing the sweeping energy plan this year than it did in 2009.
But Constantine said Monday that the Senate is hoping to avoid having the House unplug its energy plan again in the upcoming 2010 session.
Constantine said his preference would be to have a renewable energy standard that is focused more on purely renewable energies like wind and solar than “clean” sources that do not emit greenhouse gases like nuclear. But Constantine said he would be flexible.
“My hope is to make it more renewable than clean, because clean puts us behind other states and goes to the level of nuclear,” he said in an interview with the News Service of Florida. “If you give them 20 percent nuclear, they’ll take 20 percent. But in my last year, I’ll take what I can get.”
However, Constantine said he hoped that a controversial plan to allow offshore oil drilling in Florida Gulf Coast, a measure that has gotten more traction in the House than in the Senate and is more popular political with the base of the Republican Party, wouldn’t be traded for a renewable energy bill.
“They really aren’t connected,” he said, adding that he was not necessarily opposed to the drilling plan.
The renewable energy standard was once one of Gov. Charlie Crist’s top priorities, but is not mentioned much anymore as the governor runs for the U.S. Senate.
And despite Constantine’s willingness to be flexible, one prominent member of the green lobby, which had pushed the Legislature to approve the renewable energy standard last year, said Monday that the House would again likely not move the broad package passed by the Senate last year.
The chamber will instead likely look to make changes to Florida’s energy statutes to make its renewable intentions known this year, Audubon of Florida deputy director Eric Draper said.
“I don’t think you’ll see an (renewable portfolio standard) this year, but we’ll have a renewable bill,” Draper told the News Service. “It won’t be Jim King’s bill, but there will be legislation. The House has signaled it would rather set the policy framework before setting specific standards…without knowing if it would be feasible.”
Though not the big bill he and other environmentalists once envisioned, which he admitted became “kind of a Christmas tree,” Draper said that the House putting renewable energy goals in state law would be a major victory for the agenda.
“They’re going to look at putting specific guidance into the statutes about whether or not the reasons for doing renewable energy are as important,” as other goals in state energy policy, such as affordability, Draper said.
“What we’ve been encouraging them to do is back off (the affordability goal),” he said. “You can talk to Barney Bishop of AIF or Eric Draper of Audubon Florida and you’ll hear that the only way you’re going to get renewable energy in the state is to make an investment, and the investment is going to be backed by a level of production that is not yet there. What the House seems willing to do is say that affordability is not always as important as protecting the environment. There’s sometimes a tension there.”
Draper said the House tweaking the state’s energy statutes could clear the way for the eventual implementation of a broad, renewable energy plan, which some critics charge amounts to picking the winners in the burgeoning renewable energy market by favoring certain types of renewable energy for state investment.
But Senate President Jeff Atwater was not as optimistic about House movement on renewable energy as Draper was. So far, there is no House bill filed this year.
“I’m not aware of where they may be on that, but we still believe it had merit and is a valuable step for us to take,” Atwater told reporters after addressing the state’s largest business lobby in Tallahassee on Monday.
Atwater said the Senate would keep leaning on the lower chamber.
“I think we still believe those are the right ways to go. I thought we had found some universal agreement that this was important…even if it was only incremental to some. I think you’ll see us work with it again.”
Constantine agreed that it was important for the chamber not to give up, saying that the House has signaled it would use the Senate bill as a starting point.
“They’ve got to having something to work from,” he said. “I think a lot of the reason (for the House delay on the plan) was that they got a late start last year,” he said, referring to tumultuous transfer of House leadership from former Speaker Ray Sansom to Speaker Larry Cretul last spring.