Bud Chiles, independent candidate for governor, said Wednesday he will push for a 20-percent renewable energy requirement as governor and push to reauthorize the solar energy rebate program.
Chiles announced the initiatives after touring the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa. He also criticized his opponents' and their parties for accepting donations from utilities.
"I am the one candidate who can swing for the fences here," Chiles said in a telephone interview. "I'm not beholden to the utilities who are blocking the progress. I am going to push for this hard."
Chiles also said on Wednesday that he also would enable consumers to finance energy retrofits through their monthly electricity bills, create a $100 million renewable energy revolving loan fund for state and local renewable energy projects and end the "culture of corruption" that allows utilities to use campaign contributions as leverage over the Florida Public Service Commission.
Last week Chiles called for a grand jury investigation of the PSC after a nominating council refused to grant interviews to two incumbent commissioners who opposed utility rate hikes sought by the state's two largest utilities.
Chiles himself, however, came under fire in the early '90s when his father, the late Lawton Chiles, was governor. Members and associates of a public relations firm owned by Chiles were accused of trying to help a utility client before both the PSC and the Cabinet. The St. Petersburg Times reported the allegations were confirmed by a former PSC member and aides to then Education Commissioner Betty Castor. Months after the allegations surfaced, Chiles sold his firm.
If Chiles proposal for a renewable energy requirement has a familiar ring, that's because Gov. Charlie Crist proposed a 20-percent "renewable portfolio standard" in 2007 -- only to see it derailed by the GOP-controlled Legislature.
An energy bill approved in 2008 required a PSC recommendation and approval by the Legislature. The PSC recommended a 20-percent RPS but the Legislature refused to approve it in 2009.
The solar rebate program, which provides rebates of up to $20,000 for residential solar photovoltaic panels, was begun in 2006. But the program ended June 30 with a backlog of at least $41 million and 11,000 pending applications.
Chiles said he would provide $15 million a year for solar rebates and would get the money by examining $34 billion in sales tax loopholes, although those loopholes have powerful supporters in the Legislature. He said the jobs and environmental benefits of renewable energy are worth it.
"It's going to create jobs, it's going to save the environment and get us off carbon fuels," said Chiles.
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