Paradise Screwed?

“On Florida’s Energy Future” – an article by Amy Keller in this month’s Florida Trend – interviews Adam Putnam, the commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.  His office has oversight for energy and climate change policies and programs.  The article includes invaluable charts of the types of energy (i.e. coal, natural gas, solar, etc.) currently utilized by each of the state’s four investor-owned energy providers and projections for each by 2019.  Alternative energy sources are not projected to change substantially.

To Putnam’s credit, he wants to see more diversity in energy sources and asserts that we have to develop “all of the above” when it comes to steady energy delivery as Florida grows.  He notes the “game changer” has been the discovery of huge reserves of natural gas inland. Putnam even reflects that increasing drilling in the oceans is not very compelling now that a cleaner and more abundant source of energy has been discovered on land in such abundance.  Gulf Power, our local energy provider, is drawing over 84% of its energy from coal-burning whereas all the other providers are using less than 60% coal, with one as low as 45%.

However, diversification in the mind of Florida’s energy commissioner means development of nuclear power, or at least bringing existing nuclear power plants that are shut down back into operational status.  Florida Power and Light  operates two nuclear power plants near Port St. Lucie and has two pending applications to build two more plants at a Turkey Point site, 25 miles south of Miami near the Everglades.  Progress Energy owns a nuclear power plant that has been shut down since 2009 but may reopen in 2014 with repairs, while they have two pending applications to build power plants in Levy County.  Gulf Power in Pensacola is considering building a nuclear plant in Escambia County but has no pending applications.

The discussions about renewables was a minor bleep on the screen during this discussion; the bottom line as always is cheap energy.  Why then are we considering a total of 8 nuclear power plants in Florida in key ecological areas that will impact human health and wildlife, and by default, the state’s key tourism dollars?  It makes no sense.  Experts point to the relative high costs of developing nuclear power to the long-term cheap costs of maintaining it. So, then, why not make these same investments in “expensive” alternatives which promise even better outcomes?

Everyday I watch tractor trailers pull gigantic wind turbines, manufactured in Pensacola by General Electric, to other states, like Texas, where wind now comprises about 20% of the state’s total energy.  In 2005, the Texas Legislature passed legislation which established five Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) to ensure that electric transmission infrastructure was aggressively developed to deliver wind energy throughout the state. The projected increase from the current wind generation capacity to an estimated 18,000 megawatts should happen by 2015.  Why has the sunshine state, a state with potential to develop wave and geothermal energy, not developed a big vision like Texans have done?

TEXANS!  If they can do it, should Floridians be able to do it?  What’s keeping us from forming a sustainable vision?

Florida operates like a rambunctious territory with wildcat development, graft and dark deeds.  The nation has been the recipient of its bird plumes, alligator hides, pine trees, red snapper, sugarcane, spring water, and tourist destinations…all at the expense of a vulnerable landscape. Miami journalist and popular fiction writer Carl Hiaasen has been making a good income off all these stories, based on real people and events. Hilarious to read, the longer I live in Florida the less funny they seem.  (Read Paradise Screwed for example.)  While making fun of the state (he is a native God bless him) Hiaasen is dead serious.  His Miami Herald column has angered many a politician, developer, or investor in the wild schemes that plunder The Swamp.  These precious springs and shores are priceless treasures of biodiversity, and beauty with important functions in the larger ecosystems to which the state is connected.

Don’t get me wrong: air conditioning, bug spray, and roads have made Florida habitable, and no one loves the beach more than me.  But we must join other states in figuring out how to live here sustainably.  Nuclear power plants have no place in Florida.  That is a NO BRAINER!  Carl?

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