February 21, 2012

Florida Senate panel OKs renewable energy bill

Years of gridlock on renewable energy in the state Capitol could be easing as a bill moves through the Florida Senate that would grant tax breaks and other incentives for alternative power production.

The bill is perhaps even more notable for what it doesn’t include: the potential for power companies to raise rates.

The legislation unanimously passed its second Senate test, the Agriculture Committee, on Monday. The success so far has left renewable energy supporters hopeful of more progress.

“It’s a modest bill but it still moves the issue along” after years of inaction, said Susan Glickman, of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, after the Senate Agriculture Committee’s favorable vote.
The legislation allows local governments to devote some local sales tax money collected for infrastructure improvements to energy efficiency programs, such as Sarasota County’s rebate for efficient air conditioners and other products.

The bill also provides annual tax breaks of up to $500,000 for utilities that build solar projects and other renewable energy developments, and up to $1 million for companies that create renewable fuels like ethanol.

Electric vehicle charging stations would have fewer permitting hurdles under the legislation.

Efforts to promote solar, biofuels and other renewable energy programs have consistently failed in the Legislature in recent years partly because of pressure by Florida Power & Light to make energy reform a vehicle for rate increases.

When Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam took responsibility for pushing the energy bill this year, he stripped it down to a simple list of tax breaks and other renewable incentives that do not touch on electric rates.

That did not stop FPL from trying to amend the bill on Monday. But the FPL-backed amendment was withdrawn in the face of opposition, clearing the way for passage.

Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who is sponsoring the legislation in the Senate on Putnam’s behalf, called it a “first step” after years of being “bogged down.”

Left unsaid was FPL’s heavy influence on past energy bills that led to significant opposition from lawmakers worried about rate increases.

The amendment FPL pushed Monday would have forced the Public Service Commission to make rate decisions based on improvements at individual power plants.

But opponents said the amendment essentially gave FPL a way to bypass the standard rate approval process.

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2 comments:

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