Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam urges lawmakers to reduce current goal of 20% renewable energy by 2020 to more realistic level as state develops energy policy; Putnam proposes capping renewable energy 75 MW, or 1% of utility's annual capacity

TALLAHASSEE, Florida , January 12, 2012 () – Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, in his new role as Florida's top energy official, urged lawmakers on Thursday to scale back renewable energy goals to a more realistic level as they develop an energy policy for the state.

Putnam rolled out his recommendations during an appearance before the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee.

"It's important that we lead with some modesty," Putnam said. "I'm interested in the art of the possible. I learned a long time ago that in this process you can make a statement or you can make a law."

The Legislature last year abolished the governor's Energy and Climate Commission and transferred its duties to a new Energy Office in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Lawmakers have been struggling for years to come up with a state energy policy.

Putnam's recommendations include restoring expired tax breaks for renewables and scrapping renewable energy portfolio standards for electric utilities. Those standards have been a major stumbling block in the energy policy quest.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist had pushed for a goal of generating 20 percent of Florida's electrical power from solar, wind, biomass and other renewables by 2020, but that met resistance from utilities and lawmakers worried about the cost of meeting that standard.

Putnam, instead, wants to cap renewable energy at no more than 75 megawatts or 1 percent of a utility's annual generating capacity, whichever is less, to hold down the cost to consumers.

Another proposal is to let utilities invest in Public Service Commission-approved financing projects for private renewable energy facilities. Current law allows it only for government-owned solid waste facilities.

Putnam urged lawmakers, as well, to take steps that would increase fuel diversity by adding that factor to cost stability and reliability when the PSC evaluates a utility.

Half of Florida's electric power now is generated by burning natural gas and it's headed for 70 percent, Putnam said. The upside to natural gas is that it burns cleaner than coal or oil and costs less, but Putnam said that's likely to change.

The state already has taken steps to encourage the expansion of nuclear power, which Putnam says now accounts for 10 percent of the state's electrical needs. The main incentive is letting utilities pass on to customers the planning and construction costs of nuclear plants years before they are operational.

Other recommendations focused on gathering data on renewables, lifting regulatory barriers to setting up electric vehicle charging stations and growing crops for biomass, providing consumers with better information on how to save energy and improving the energy efficiency of state buildings.

"Your presentation is what we've been waiting for," Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee told Putnam.

The panel's chairman, Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, said some of Putnam's ideas would be used in an energy policy bill that will be drafted in the coming weeks.

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkle Vasalinda, though, questioned why Putnam didn't include other new factors besides fuel diversity in his utility evaluation proposal. The Tallahassee Democrat suggested national security, environmental factors, health, economic development, job creation and safety, citing the recent nuclear plant crisis in Japan.

Putnam said those are valid considerations but hard to quantify. He also noted the federal government already has responsibility for nuclear plant safety.

Rehwinkle Vasalinda also questioned why Florida has been so slow to do anything on renewables and energy conservation and efficiency.

Putnam, a former congressman in his present job for little more than a year, said he was in no position to criticize since he came from Washington.

"They do two things well in Washington -- nothing and overreact," he said.

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