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Florida's Sweet Energy Mandate

Jan. 8 was a sweet day in Florida, and I’m not talking about the weather.

On that day, the state's Public Service Commission voted for a new energy mandate: the state will get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources—wind, solar, hydropower, or biomass—by 2020.

"We want to be a leader in this country in solar and wind," Public Service Commission Chairman Matthew Carter said. "We want to establish a dynamic and vibrant marketplace."

This is some fresh air, indeed. For years, Florida utility regulators have done the bidding of the state's politically powerful utility companies. The PSC voted for the new renewable energy goal even though the utilities spent months belly aching about how it could not be done (That's a song that we've grown oh-so-very weary of hearing.). And to add icing for our cake, the PSC shot down an attempt by power companies to get nuclear power plants defined as "renewable" energy.

Could it be a new day in fossil-fuel Florida? Just a year and a half ago, we were fighting one of the country’s largest proposed coal plants, right near Everglades National Park. The PSC voted down that plant in June 2007.

Big-time credit for the Sunshine State’s political changes goes to Gov. Charlie Crist, who has made energy policy and climate change action true priorities for his administration. He laid it out in his inaugural address when he said: "I am persuaded that global climate change is one of the most important issues we face this century, and we must make every effort to do what is right."

In 2007, Crist signed an executive order requiring the state to lower greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2025. Then he appointed an Action Team on Energy and Climate Change.

I served on the team, and we released a blueprint that would make Florida one of America's most aggressive states in tackling climate change.

Our recommended reforms  would cut Florida's greenhouse gases 34 percent by 2025 and would cut energy costs by $28 billion. We estimated that Florida could save an estimated 53.5 billion gallons of petroleum, 200.2 million short tons of coal, and 6.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

The PSC vote requiring utilities to develop renewable energy sources is a great, historical step. I am looking forward to the day when Florida makes its own renewable energy instead of importing fossil fuels. And, for the first time in a long time, I believe we may have the political leadership to make it happen.

The PSC's "20 by 20" recommendation now goes to the Florida Legislature, and we'll be keeping the pressure up until it passes.

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