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Putnam unveils ideas for Florida's energy policy

It's time Florida put a premium on energy diversity, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam told state lawmakers Thursday.

Putnam, whose agency now houses the state's Energy Office, outlined a comprehensive energy policy that includes redirecting incentives, regulation and opening the door slightly to a renewable requirement for utility companies.

Investors are eager to come to Florida, he said, and the state is ripe for development. But years of halting progress and legislative indecision has resulted in nation's third largest state without a comprehensive energy policy.

"This has bounced all over state government, and now it has landed in the lap of the red-headed step child,'' he said of the Energy Office before the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee.

The committee listened attentively for 30 minutes as Putnam outlined his ideas, then showered him with commendations before committee chairman Scott Plakon announced they would adopt Putnam's recommendations as a proposed committee bill. Sen. Andy Gardiner, chairman of the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee, announced Thursday that his panel will do the same.

The core of Putnam's suggestions is to place a new premium on energy diversity in a state that is projected to rely on natural gas for nealry 70 percent of its fuel -- a source, he later noted, that was delivered via two pipelines "through hurricane alley."

He also urged a go-slow approach amid the constantly changing innovations in the technology-driven industry.

"Overpromising to the public with these technologies is a disservice to the public,'' he said.

Putnam's proposal would require the state's Public Service Commission to update the way it regulates the state's electric utilities by enabling the regulatory board to "place a value on renewable energy." To get there, he suggests:

  • Requiring companies to report renewable resources as part of their 10-year site pans
  • Placing a value on diversity and conservation, including during need determination decisions ("We have to drive them toward diversity,'' he said.)
  • Considering renewables in power purchase agreements
  • Requiring consistent measurement through "clear criteria"
  • Allowing utilities to enter into public and private partnerships to expand renewable energy -- a proposal that could allow them to profit off and not compete with renewable energy producers
  • Allowing utilities to recover the cost of developing 75 megawatts or 1 percent of their generating capacity from renewable energy. He said the shift would cost consumers "pennies, not dollars" each month, jump-start statewide demand for renewable power and serve to help drive down the costs. "This is a very modest step toward expanding renewable capacity in the State of Florida in a way that protects customers,'' he said.
  • Requiring all 5,000 square foot or greater state buildings to report energy consumption. "As state government we need to lead by example, and it’s a disaster," he said

Putnam said the state has effectively abandoned the renewable portfolion standard adopted in 2006 under then-Gov. Charlie Crist and should repeal it. However, the new regulatory approach should embed renewables into Florida's future regulatory scheme.

Putnam called his ideas modest. House members seemed impressed.

"This has been four years in the making," said Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee.

Putnam said he supports new proposals for expanding nuclear power in the state. Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, asked if his office would take a look at the safety of nuclear power plants given the scares in Japan and cracked walls in the Crystal River plant. Putnam said nuclear plants are already heavily regulated by the federal government.

"It seems to me it would be a bit redundant and that the state agencies lack expertise in doing what the federal government is already doing."

-- Mary Ellen Klas and Katie Sanders