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Scott to weigh in on energy policy with less conservation, more renewables

After remaining on the sidelines on energy issues since taking office, Gov. Rick Scott is now entering the fray, ordering up renewable energy legislation, asking that utilty regulators lower energy efficiency standards, and preparing a new energy plan, the governor's top policy advisors said Thursday.

Scott's new new Special Advisor on Energy Policy Mary Bane is hoping to find a solution to appease the warring factions that led to renewable energy bills dying in the last three legislative sessions, said Mary Anne Carter, Scott's policy chief.

By summer's end, Bane will have a proposed state energy policy that will address everything from offshore oil drilling off Florida's coast to clean coal and renewable energy, Carter told an assembly of about three dozen energy stakeholders in the Capitol's Cabinet meeting room. The first priority, however, will be to open the door to renewable energy and shut the door on what the governor considers expensive energy efficiency policies, she said.

"The governor is a big proponent of renewable energy,'' she said. Scott also wants the Public Service Commssion to soften the so-called "Demand Side Management" requirement on electric companies that forces the companies to reward customers for conserving energy, she said. "Conservation is a good thing but the cost of it doesn't have to be this high,'' Carter told the crowd.

The Public Service Commission has recently postponed discussions on energy efficiency goals for Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light and the commission's staff has recommended that because of the economy and high energy costs, Progress Energy should be allowed to set a more moderate energy efficiency goal than the one set last year. In 2010, the PSC required Progress to lower energy usage by 3,205 Gigawatt-hours (GWh) over the next 10 years, a goal the company said would cost the average residential customer about $13.20 per month over nine years.

Scott believes that to lure manufacturers to Florida the state must lower its energy costs, said Doug Darling, a deputy chief of staff for Scott and head of his Cabinet affairs who will be working with Bane. Darling told the Herald/Times that the governor "wants solutions" and "is very sensitive to putting this on the backs of ratepayers."

He said that while Scott believes "renewables make sense, it has to be balanced in terms of cost effectiveness."

The bill pushed by Florida Power & Light for the past three years would have allowed Florida’s largest electric utility company to raise rates as much as $2 a month and control the solar energy market in the state without having to get approval from regulators.

The proposal, which died in the last week of session, would have allowed the company to generate more than half of the renewable energy allowed under the rate increase and charge customers using 1,200 kilowatt hours $2.42 a month more for the next five years.

Darling said that the governor hopes to start with an energy plan, then decide which programs to support. "When you don't have a comprehensive strategy and people want a carve out you say, 'How does that fit into the plan? Where does it get us,''' he said. "We don't want a percentage goal, we want a compresensive approach for what Florida should have for renewables."

Darling is one of Scott's three deputy chiefs of staff. A retired Marine, he formerly worked as chief of staff for former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole, who now lobbies for Florida Power & Light.