Florida Lawmakers Ready to Make Energy Changes

TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers are moving toward approving an overhaul of state energy laws, including eliminating references to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and imposing a ban on offshore wind-energy generation.

The Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved a revised bill (SB 1624) that sponsor Jay Collins, R-Tampa, said is now in line with a measure (HB 1645) ready to go to the full House.

The bills address numerous issues, ranging from natural gas pipelines to calling for a study of using “advanced” nuclear power technologies. Perhaps bigger picture, they would ditch parts of state law about reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

Collins said bill supporters are trying to “maintain our stability in the grid” and balance costs to taxpayers.

“There are things we’re taking off of the books. There are laws that we’re pulling out of there,” Collins told the Senate committee. “But it’s not because we don’t care about our environment. I think, if you look at what Florida’s doing, we do a very good job as stewards of our land, now and into the future. I think what it (the bill) does is it lets us look at this and do the things that actually have a functionable, repeatable benefit.”

But critics pointed to issues such as flooding caused by sea-level rise.

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“I’m not sure how it became political to care about our environment,” Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said. “Florida is ground zero for climate disasters. We are surrounded by water, and the effects are showing.”

As an example, part of current state law says, “The Legislature finds that the state’s energy security can be increased by lessening dependence on foreign oil; that the impacts of global climate change can be reduced through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; and that the implementation of alternative energy technologies can be a source of new jobs and employment opportunities for many Floridians.”

Under the bills, that section of law would be deleted, and partly replaced by sentences that say, “The purpose of the state’s energy policy is to ensure an adequate, reliable, and cost-effective supply of energy for the state in a manner that promotes the health and welfare of the public and economic growth. The Legislature intends that governance of the state’s energy policy be efficiently directed toward achieving this purpose.”

Florida utilities during the past two decades have become heavily dependent on natural gas to fuel power plants, while largely ending the use of dirtier-burning coal. At the same time, utilities have built numerous solar-energy facilities, as costs have decreased and technology has improved.

The bills address a series of issues related to natural gas. As an example, gas pipelines within Florida that are 15 miles or longer currently need certification under a law known as the Natural Gas Transmission Pipeline Siting Act. Under the bills, the requirement would apply to pipelines 100 miles or longer.

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Unlike some other parts of the country such as the Midwest, Florida does not rely on wind-generated power. But the bills would ban building or operating offshore wind turbines in Florida-controlled waters and on property within one mile of coastlines.

Collins said the proposed ban is designed to help protect wildlife and ecosystems and to prevent noise.

“Overall, the risk to our flora and fauna, our whales, the ecosystem around there, that’s concerning,” Collins said. “And then the tourism and noise aspect as well is also concerning.”

But Polsky and Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boca Raton, suggested the issue should be studied before a ban is imposed.

“We are stopping an industry,” Berman said. “We are supposedly the free state of Florida. It’s being done all along the Northeast (United States). They have wind turbines, and I haven’t seen any studies that (they) were causing (harm to) whales and extreme environmental damage in those areas.”

The Senate committee voted 6-3 to approve Collins’ bill, which needs to clear the Fiscal Policy Committee before it could go to the full Senate.

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