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Utilities & Energy 2009

Martin Solar Thermal Project
Rendering: Florida Power & Light’s Martin Solar Thermal Project. The utility expects to generate power from the Martin County plant in 2010. [Rendering: Florida Power & Light]

With renewable energy dominating state headlines over the past two years, you’d think Florida was leading the nation down the green, clean energy path.

In executive orders in 2007, Gov. Charlie Crist set ambitious goals to move Florida toward more solar and wind power, calling for investor-owned utilities to get to 20% renewable energy sources by 2020.

Renewables: A Small Slice
Today’s energy generation by fuel type in Florida compared with the forecast for 2017 under current policies:
Renewables pie charts
Source: Florida Public Service Commission

In 2008, the Legislature followed up with a bill requiring the Public Service Commission to set new standards for renewables in utilities’ energy portfolios. Throughout the year, new companies and old announced renewable-energy projects across the state. Florida’s largest utility, Florida Power & Light, announced three solar energy plants, including the world’s largest photovoltaic solar array, in De Soto County; the first “hybrid” energy center that will couple solar thermal technology with an existing natural gas combined-cycle generation unit, in Martin County; and the Space Coast Next Generation Solar Energy Center, a public-private partnership at Kennedy Space Center.

Those steps, however promising, won’t alter Florida’s traditional energy mix, roughly a third coal and a third natural gas — and only about 2% renewables [“Renewables: A Small Slice,” below]. FPL’s three new solar plants will generate 110 megawatts of power, enough to light up about 15,000 homes, but that represents less than half a percent of FPL’s residential customers in Florida.Look for the Public Service Commission this month to vote on the new standards. A consultant for the agency last month advised it’s possible for Florida to reach the governor’s goals, but it would require stronger market conditions — and luck.

Power Powerhouses
Florida’s largest investor-owned utilities, along with their total number of residential, commercial and industrial customers:
Florida Power & Light
Progress Energy Florida
Tampa Electric Co.
Gulf Power Co. 427,284
Source: Florida Public Service Commission

Environmentalists and alternative energy companies want to spur investment in renewables. “The way to create certainty in the market is with a strong target,” says Susan Glickman, southern U.S. regional director for the Climate Group. “The focus here has got to be on jump-starting a business market.” Lawmakers should take up the PSC’s recommendations during their regular session that begins in March.

Some of the companies looking for a larger slice of the pie include Covanta, which builds waste-to-energy facilities, and Florida Crystals, which powers its massive refinery in Okeelanta with sugar cane fiber waste called bagasse. Both companies say they want to expand their generation of green power in Florida but that it’s impossible to compete with the large investor-owned utilities that want to keep the status quo.

Going Nuclear

Three new nuclear power reactors are up for various stages of approval this year: FPL’s Turkey Point 6 and Turkey Point 7, proposed 25 miles south of Miami, and Progress Energy’s Levy County plant, eight miles north of its current reactor in Crystal River. Look for nuclear energy to be a big part of the renewables debates, as well. FPL, for example, argues that nuclear should be considered “clean energy” and eligible for compliance credits under the new renewable portfolio standards. PSC staff has recommended otherwise.