Alternative energy plan draws fire

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA - A proposal to require privately owned Florida utilities to generate more power from renewable and nuclear sources sailed through a Senate committee even as it came under fire from all sides.

The changes would be funded by a 2 percent increase in electricity rates and a 1-cent-a-gallon increase in the gas tax.

The measure, crafted by Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, would require the utilities to draw a fifth of their power from nuclear power or renewable sources, like solar, biomass or wind energy, by 2020.

"I think it's something that has to be done sooner or later," said King, who chairs the Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee that approved the measure. "If not now, when?"

King's bill draws on a plan submitted by the Public Service Commission in January. The PSC proposal, ordered by the Legislature in 2008, did not include nuclear energy or the fuel tax increase.

The panel approved the plan 6-3, with two Republicans dissenting over the increased gas tax and one Democrat opposing the bill because it includes nuclear power.

The proposal would allow utilities to draw 15 percent of their power from renewable sources and 5 percent from new nuclear plants. But Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said that was a significant change from the Legislature's initial charge to the PSC and an executive order issued by Gov. Charlie Crist, who has pressed for the "20 by 2020" plan.

"It does seem to me that this measure retreats from the renewable portfolio standard," Gelber said.

Some environmentalists expressed concern about the pro-nuclear portion of the measure but backed it anyway. Others blasted the inclusion of nuclear sources.

"Taxpayers should not be subsidizing nuclear power when there are faster, cleaner, cheaper alternatives to meet our energy needs," said Brad Ashwell of Florida PIRG, a public-policy group.

Republican Sens. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, argued against the gas tax increase. Both pushed for the Legislature to use federal stimulus funds targeted for renewable energy.

King, though, said the status of those stimulus funds was still murky, and the bill would be little more than good intentions without funding. King also questioned whether the tax increase is significant enough to make a difference.

"I don't think that the people at home are even going to feel the one penny," he said.


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