Thursday, April 30, 2009
Senate approves renewables bill, sends to House
The Senate voted 37-1 today to approve SB 1154, which requires investor-owned utilities produce at least 20 percent of their electricity from "clean" energy sources including nuclear.
The bill, supported by Gov. Charlie Crist to address climate change, was a top priority of environmental groups but faces an uncertain future in the House where a companion bill was not heard in committee.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jim King, said there is a good possibility the Legislature will adopt an energy bill if the Senate shows overwhelming support to convince some "doubting Thomases" in the House about the need for the bill.
"I would hope, really hope, even if you have some second thoughts or whatever that you would send this on its way to see what we get back," said King, R-Jacksonville. "Hopefully Florida will take a giant, giant step to being less dependent on foreign fuel."
The bill requires at least 15 percent of electricity be from renewable sources including solar, wind and biomass plants. Crist and the Florida Public Service Commission had asked that 20 percent be from renewable sources, but King said that was scaled back to 15 percent to include nuclear to win support from utilities.
During debate, Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said he was supporting the bill "as a very big step in the right direction." But he also said Florida is "retreating somewhat" by reducing the renewable energy requirement and allowing nuclear to be included in the 20 percent requirement.
"If we didn't vote for this bill, we'd have absolutely no goal at this point," Gelber said.
The bill was amended Wednesday to allow utilities to charge customers in advance for the cost of renewable energy projects.
King said the bill would allow Florida to reduce its dependance on foreign fuel, which was a major argument from the House on Monday when it adopted HB 1219 to lift the ban on drilling for oil and gas in Florida waters. Senate President Jeff Atwater said his chamber would not take up the bill.
Crist said earlier in the week that some drilling supporters sought to link drilling with the renewable energy bill. So environmentalists now will be watching to see whether the House adds drilling to the bill or adopts it without major changes.
Environmental groups supported SB 1154 but did not support changing the renewable energy standard to allow nuclear.