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A Renewable Energy Bill That Even the Tea Party Can't Like

March 31, 2011 - 6:00pm

The Florida Legislature came a step closer to passing a renewable energy bill that rips apart all that the tea party stands for. The bill would forever assign renewable energy development and deployment solely to Floridas regulated electric monopolies under the guise of supporting a green future.

The bill allows Florida Power & Light Co. and the rest of Florida 's largest utilities to single-handedly control all aspects of renewable energy in this state, effectively deciding what gets built, when, and by whom. Instead of opening up markets, it closes them, squelching competition. This bill isn't about the government working for the people to create more jobs and prosperity. And, it does not allow free markets to do what they do best.

Instead of allowing the industry to create jobs, SPB 7082 eliminates jobs by denying independent renewable-energy developers access to the electric grids. Many of these companies are homegrown businesses that have been serving Floridians for 30 years or more. Then, there are the independent, larger biomass, windand seasoned utility scale solar developers hoping for a competitive renewable-energy market in Florida .

Leaving renewable energy development solely in the hands of monopolies is a colossal mistake. Additionally, SPB 7082 systematizes rate increases under a renewable-energy cost recovery formula. It gives utilities the ability to raise rates every year at the flip of a switch -- to the tune of hundreds of millions.

The bill also does a variety of other mind-boggling things that shows the Legislature's real intent. It eliminates the Florida Energy Officeand Climate Change Commission to form a nebulous governmental entity that operates as a power unto itself, with very few requirements for transparency or public disclosure. It eliminates any reference to pursuing a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards policy.

It allows investor-owned utilities to get an unprecedented rate increase siphoned directly from ratepayers without the need for regulatory review, public input or approval. It flies in the face of everything this conservative writer knows and understands about free markets and open competition. It is the worst of government during the worst of times. It is government picking winners and losers. It is government choosing regulated monopolies over free and open competition.

This is downright weird, given that our legislative leaders are self-identified fiscal conservatives and free marketeers. While they have committed to reducing regulations, somehow theyargue that reducing regulations which allow for a free-market and competitive renewable-energy industry is "deregulation." Nowhere else does the Florida Legislature say that. It even has a deregulation bill that will be the centerpiece of this session's accomplishments, worthy of bragging rights.

They further argue thatcreating a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard is a government mandate, while stipulatingthat monopoly control over what is currently a free market is not. The suggestion is that codifying future rate increases and appropriating all money to the utilities is somehow not a mandate, either. I hate to be the bearer of the truth but, the emperor has no clothes andis surely naked.

As someone who always saw renewable-energy policy as being at itsbest when we get government out of the way, this direction is dismaying. The tea party warned against this type of government, andthey were right. Last year, this same bill was presented andeventually died (or was pulled back). The reason? It was an election year. This time around, thebill's supporters feel they could get it passed and YOU (the voter) will notremember in November 2012. It was a calculated decision to put itofffor that very reason. It could have been passed last year, but thepolitical consequences were not worth the risk.

The supporters are wrong. The tea party of Florida will not forget how this bill goes against everything we believe in. Government should not be in the business of setting up monopolies and discouraging openmarkets. Government should not use its awesome power to tax citizens and then earmark the money for private interests.

In other states, independent renewable-energy developers are building biomass plants, solar arrays and renewable projects using windmills. In this state, political leaders (with a straight face) have said independent developers are not capable ofdoing that. In other states, investment dollars are being spent and venture capital dollars are sowing the fertile renewable-energy fields, spurring innovative start-ups and entrepreneurialactivity. In Florida, what we are saying is stay away, dont try to do business here, and if you try you will spend a lot of money, go broke and die young.

The Legislature needs to go back to the drawing board and adoptpolicies that build new industries (like renewable energy) throughopen and competitive markets. Our governor said he would createjobs and open up markets. Is this what he meant? Its surely not open andfree markets, and it's surely not getting government out of the way.

Michael Dobson is president/CEO of Florida Renewable-Energy Producers Association, chairman of Florida Green Energy Initiative and managing member of Dobson Craig and Associates. He is a Tallahassee-based columnist, renewable-energy policy expert and government relations consultant.

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