What do Gov. Crist, Rep. Fitzgerald, and Rep. Kreegel have in common?

Reprinted from Creative Loafing

This week I spent some time at the Florida state capitol with our senators and representatives talking about the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS). It is set up to meet Governor Crist’s goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020 for the state of Florida, and will help cut the pollution that causes global warming.

Here’s the back story:

From 2000 through 2006, the average residential rates for electricity have risen 41 percent; this is without any significant investment in renewable energy. This year, Florida taxpayers are expecting to see a substantial rate hike from Progress Energy, Florida Power and Light (FPL) and Tampa Electric (TECO) due to a rise in the cost of fossil fuels and the early cost recovery for nuclear plant development. Customers of Progress Energy are looking at a 25 percent rate hike, FPL customers are looking at 16 percent and TECO customers are looking at 12 percent. (Note: Progress Energy customers were in such an uproar the company decided to put a hold on its rate hike. For now.)

While the price of fossil fuels and natural gas continue to go up, the cost of renewable fuels has just gotten lower. The price-per-watt at peak photovoltaic solar (PV) has dropped from $27 in 1982 to approximately $8 today. The rate passed on to the customer that is introduced in the RPS for renewable energy is $3 to $4 per month (74 cents a month in Gainesville), which is relatively low compared to the Early Cost Recovery for nuclear at $11 to $15 per month.

We have reached a 16-year high in the unemployment rate in Florida; it now sits at 8.1 percent. The state lost 255,000 jobs in the past year alone. Construction accounted for 30 percent of the jobs lost. More than 750,000 Floridians remain unemployed. What is significant about renewable energy is the opportunity that it will bring to our local economy. While renewable technology can be developed throughout our communities, the building of nuclear power plants will benefit only a very few. With only two utility companies in Florida set up to promote new construction of nuclear power plants, FPL and Progress Energy, the benefits to the economy are limited.

Here’s the opportunity:

Rep. Fitzgerald, (D-Sarasota), has a bill up for consideration based on a successful model currently in use in Gainesville. That city has a feed-in tariff on renewable energy that is already in place and has reached its cap on solar payments for this year and next due to the overwhelming participation of its residents.

The head of the energy committee, Rep. Kreegel (R-Punta Gorda) is considering attaching Fitzgerald’s bill to a larger energy bill this legislative session. Just recently, the state Senate had a committee hearing on renewable energy where so many people showed up to speak on behalf of renewable energy that they had to hold a second meeting the following week just to allow everyone the opportunity.

Now here’s the issue:

With so many reasons to support a renewable energy future for Florida, and so many people who are crying out for the opportunity that renewables will bring to the local community, why hasn’t the bill been brought to the floor? The Florida legislative session is half over and there seems to be nothing on the books as of yet. Since the scandal of former Speaker of the House Ray Sansom there has been an incredible focus on who’s in charge. New Speaker Larry Cretul has been cleaning house, and not many seem to know his agenda.

So now there’s a really good chance that no bill will pass in the legislature by the end of the session except what the bare minimum required of our legislators — to balance the budget. Where does that leave the people of our state, other than the unemployment line? It seems that Gov. Crist is our only hope. He not only has the political clout to put pressure on the legislature, but he also has our support. And for Gov. Crist, his time is running out, too. He is waiting to announce his decision on which office he will run for in 2010: U.S. senator or a second term as governor.

But what will Gov. Crist say to Floridians if the session closes and nothing passes to improve our economy? It’s time for our state government to step up to the plate and get to work. The people of Florida are watching and waiting.