Energy in Florida
An interview with the commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Florida Trend: What are the top energy issues you’d like to see addressed?
Adam Putnam: I’d like to see the state increase its fuel diversity. I’d like to see us expand our fleet of natural gas-powered vehicles. I’d like to see us finish out some of the private-sector ethanol projects that are under way, and I’d like to see us develop a long-term blueprint for Florida’s energy needs that has buy-in from the business sector, political sector and the utilities.
FT: Under your direction, an audit was initiated to review $176 million worth of grants for renewable energy and efficiency projects. What did that review find?
AP: It is not complete yet. It will be very soon. Early indications are that we have seen some very successful projects come to fruition. There are the bulk of the projects, which are still under way and too early to tell whether they will meet the promise that they had early on. There will be some instances where we will be initiating action to recoup money or even pursue charges against a very limited number of grantees who abused the public funds.
FT:You’ve talked before about the need for conservation efforts. In your travels around the state, have you come across any businesses with notable conservation efforts?
AP: Mosaic’s new headquarters, Darden’s new headquarters, Publix’s new headquarters, the Orlando utilities building. We see JM Family Enterprises installing solar panels on rooftops of dealerships. So there are a number of businesses making a business decision to incorporate smart conservation techniques into their daily operations. With Darden, it isn’t just their headquarters. They’re incorporating some of these design elements into each of their restaurants as well.
FT: What do you see as the logical progression of alternative/renewable energy here in Florida? Where do you see the state in five or 10 years down the road?
AP: I view energy policy as an all-of-the-above approach. I am not singularly focused on renewable. I believe we need an array of options for energy production for electricity and for mobile fuels in a peninsular state — and that means that diversity is important in a state that needs multiple options for its growing energy needs. Reliability is critical in a state that has record amounts of lightning strikes, is susceptible to hurricanes, tornados and other things that jeopardize reliability. And, of course, to be competitive, affordability is important, and so a logical progression would be that the state’s current reliance on natural gas will continue because of the affordability of that fuel. It is my hope that our nuclear projects will get back on track because they are long-term, zero-fuel cost technologies that also have zero emissions. From a national perspective that affects Florida, it would be nice to get clean coal back on track and that as we continue to see prices fall on renewables like solar, that we will see greater market demand for those.
The enormous game change for energy policy has been the discovery of new technologies that unlocked anywhere from 100 to 150 years of natural gas production for North America. And while that is attractive in the sense that it is domestic and now affordable, it still is only arriving in our state via two pipelines, so as we increase our reliance on natural gas, it’s important for us to diversify how we get natural gas here.