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Seizing All Opportunities

Bracken Hendricks lauds Florida’s recent advances in promoting energy security and combating global warming and highlights remaining opportunities.

Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Bracken Hendricks spoke to the Florida State Legislature today on what the state can do to advance and strengthen its climate and energy agenda.

With federal policy slogging through a partisan stalemate, Florida has stepped up to take on the challenges of global warming. Under the leadership of Governor Charlie Crist, who recently signed three ambitious Executive Orders, Florida has

  • Implemented a renewable electricity standard of 20 percent by 2020.
  • Enacted statewide greenhouse gas reduction targets; it plans to reach 2000 levels by 2017, 1990 levels by 2025, and 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050.
  • Planned a 30 percent reduction in vehicular greenhouse gas emissions by 2016, effective when California is granted a federal waiver by the EPA.
  • Revised the Energy Code for building construction to increase energy performance by at least 15 percent from the 2007 Energy Code.
  • Developed a rulemaking process for creating interconnection standards to reduce the cost of connecting solar and other renewable energy technologies to Florida’s power grid.
  • Established an “Action Team on Energy and Climate” to facilitate achievement of these targets and study adaptation strategies to combat potential adverse effects of climate change in the state.

Moreover, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced on April 17th that as state treasurer she will join the Investor Network on Climate Risk, a national network of large institutional investors focused on the ramifications of climate change for business.

Despite Florida’s aggressive push, the state still lacks a few key elements of a holistic climate and energy policy. Bracken Hendricks’ testimony today highlights three of these: a statewide public benefits fund, a renewable fuels standard, and investments in public mass transit.

No Statewide Public Benefits Fund

Nearly half of all states have public benefit funds dedicated to supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. These state-administered funds are collected either through a wire charge on electricity—usually as a per-kilowatt charge levied on the electricity consumer or as a “flat-fee”—or through predetermined contributions from utilities. The principal benefit of the wire charge is its dependability as a public finance mechanism, insulated from the volatility and uncertainty of annual state budget appropriations.

On a more local level, Orlando, Florida has experimented with a program that provides assistance to low-income residential customers, but this model should be expanded to the entire state. To qualify for the Orlando Utilities Commission’s Home Energy Fix-Up Program, total annual family income must be less than $35,000. OUC will pay 85 percent of the cost up to $2,000. Eligible customers can pursue a variety of energy-saving improvements to their homes, including attic insulation, caulked windows and weather-stripped doors, and insulation for water heaters and pipes. With minor modifications, this is a model that could be scaled-up to the state-level.

No Renewable Fuels Standard

A renewable fuels standard would provide the long-term regulatory certainty necessary to encourage Florida investors to invest in biofuel production and refineries. The renewable fuels standard legislation could contain provisions demanding that a certain percentage of biofuels be sourced from in-state producers, as well as incentives promoting local ownership of the biorefineries.

Hawaii has met its mandate that 85 percent of all gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol by mid-2006. Florida, like Hawaii, is blessed with a climate capable of growing sugar cane, which has the highest energy-return-on-investment of any non-cellulosic biofuel feedstock.

As cellulosic ethanol becomes increasingly commercially-viable, Florida’s existing agricultural waste products and new dedicated energy crops can serve the growing demand for cellulose feedstocks for fuel production. Both incentives and mandates are valuable tools in growing the market for next-generation biofuels. And state tax incentives can be designed to encourage installation of alternative fuel pumps and infrastructure to support retail distribution of biofuels.

No Major Investments in Public Mass Transit

Florida’s new suite of legislation promotes the use of hybrid and other efficient vehicles, but it lacks a long-term plan for investments in public mass transit to reduce the total number of vehicle miles traveled. Florida has the kind of mild weather and flat topography that is conducive to a variety of mass transit options including light rail, dedicated bus lanes, and high-speed regional rail. While the up-front capital costs appear daunting at first, mass transit is one of the most efficient policy mechanisms available to cut oil consumption, reduce traffic congestion, and improve localized air quality.

Florida has already established itself as a leader on climate and energy policy. With just a few more initiatives, it will be on track to set the high bar for ambitious yet achievable state-level goals, and will reap the myriad benefits—from energy savings to job creation—engendered by such informed policies.

 

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