State Politics

Florida legislature: Bill would speed up alternative energy projects

PARRISH — Sen. Mike Bennett hopes one of his bills will speed up construction of a proposed Florida Power & Light solar thermal plant near Parrish.

As the Florida Legislature kicks off its 2010 session today, Bennett has filed a bill that would, among other things, require that the Florida Public Service Commission provide for full cost recovery for certain renewable energy projects like it does for other types of power plants.

The PSC decides how much money a utility may recoup from its customers for its expense in constructing a new facility. Right now, the PSC requires a utility to build the lowest cost option for new plants, which is usually not solar, for instance, and then those costs are recoverable.

“It could potentially speed it up, if we could give them early cost recovery,” the Bradenton Republican said Monday.

If FPL decided to build the project at the Parrish site, at State Road 62 and U.S. 301, it would be Manatee County’s first large-scale solar generating facility, officials said.

Bennett said his staff is still reviewing how the bill might affect the Parrish site specifically, but he said the point of Senate Bill 1186 is “to try to find ways to speed up alternative energy.”

So far, “People I’ve talked with have been very positive, so we’ll see,” Bennett said.

FPL spokeswoman Jackie Anderson said, “It’s too early to speculate since we only recently became aware of the proposed legislation.”

But, she added, FPL is a “strong supporter of legislation that enables the growth of renewable energy production and solar technologies here in Florida.”

The company operates an existing power plant that burns natural gas to generate electricity and is proposing to add an adjacent solar thermal facility that would collect energy from the sun.

The hybrid system calls for concave reflectors similar to mirrors to gather heat from the sun’s rays, which would be converted to steam that would produce electricity in existing turbines, FPL officials have said.

With free energy from the sun, the plant would consume less fossil fuel and be able to provide power more inexpensively. The solar unit also would produce no greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, officials have said.

A lobbyist for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said she thought Bennett’s bill would help utilities to better recover costs for solar facilities.

“That’s all a good thing,” said lobbyist Susan Glickman. “The issue of concern comes in if your goal is to build a robust market for renewable energy, you don’t want renewable opportunities that are only controlled by big utilities. You want to make sure you have opportunities for the little guy, the small solar installer.”

The bill promotes the development of renewable energy in order to stimulate the state’s economy, encourage businesses to invest in clean technologies, and foster research, development, manufacturing, construction and jobs in new and renewable energy.

Sara Kennedy, reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.

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