Putnam calls for energy portfolio diversification

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam outlined a series of energy proposals to the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee. James Call reports Putnam's ideas on energy diversification and renewable sources are expected to serve as the foundation for a bill setting a state energy policy.

Putnam made 11 recommendations which he says are designed to jumpstart work on legislation to diversify what he calls Florida's energy portfolio. Last year, the legislature transferred supervision of the state's energy office from the governor to Putnam. The agricultural commissioner says he wants to work with lawmakers, utilities, consumers and other stakeholders to develop a long range plan.

"I think it is important we lead with some modesty. I'm interested in the art of the possible. I learned a long time ago that in this process you can make a statement or you can make a law. And I think it is important that we take that first step to build the momentum toward a long term, consistent, smart energy policy for the state of Florida."

Included among Putnam's recommendations is a push for renewable energy development, like bio fuels, wind and solar power. He wants lawmakers to reinstate tax credits for production and equipment purchases. He said the credits, estimated to be worth about $16 million annually, expired before the industry was able to use them. Putnam says a viable renewable energy industry could produce an economic boon in rural Florida.

"It allows us to have rural economic development without fundamentally changing the nature of a rural community. Usually what economic development is, is parachuting in some factory into the middle of nowhere and everybody is happy to have the jobs but the town is never the same again. But with these sites you are taking whatever the community is good at, which is agricultural or having open space which allows for algae and solar arrays, and all the other things that are going on out there, and now you are no longer losing your kids to the city or some other state."

Putnam says it is important to diversify Florida's energy supply. More than 50-percent of the state's electricity is generated by burning natural gas. It is supplied by two pipelines into the state. Lawmakers and experts consider that risky.

To help nurture a renewable energy industry, Putnam proposed incentives for utilities to use renewable sources to produce up to one -percent per year of their generating capacity, or 75 megawatts, whichever is less. Tallahassee Representative Michelle Rehwinkle Vasilinda who has praised Putnam's leadership since he assumed control of the state energy office, says she is disappointed by his modest proposal.

"I think he sees some of the picture. I see some movement but I am also disappointed by a number of things. The one-percent renewable energy efficiency piece, that's very very modest, very modest."

Vasilinda, a Democrat, is in the minority on the Energy and Utilities committee, which has failed to pass an energy bill the past three sessions. Longwood representative Scott Plakon has been the committee's chair for four months and is optimistic this year will be different.

"Now, you've got the governor's office engaged, Commissioner Putnam taking leadership, and of course our committee. So I think we have the ingredients to put a good bill forward."

Plakon says he will schedule a workshop, possibly within two weeks, to discuss Putnam's recommendation and consult with stakeholders before drafting a bill.