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Law promotes new fuel sources, conservation

The governor's pen sets into motion a sales tax holiday and, according to Bush, opens a dialogue on building nuclear plants.

Published June 20, 2006

TAMPA - Gov. Jeb Bush signed the state's first energy bill into law Monday, setting the stage to spend $100-million over the next four years creating alternative fuel sources and promoting energy conservation.

The new law also establishes a sales tax holiday from Oct. 5-11 on energy efficient appliances that carry the Energy Star logo. Major appliances like washers and dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, air conditioners and ceiling fans that cost less than $1,500 would be eligible for the tax break.

Bush said the law also opens a dialogue on the building of new nuclear power plants in Florida.

Nuclear power is the cheapest form of electricity generation, Bush said, although building nuclear facilities is expensive. He wants the Public Service Commission, which regulates utility companies, to explore nuclear power as an alternative and make it easier to build nuclear plants. The law offers incentives to nuclear power companies.

"It should be done thoughtfully, but it should not be prohibited," Bush said.

Bush signed the Florida Renewable Energy Technologies and Energy Efficiency Act at the Port of Tampa on the site of a planned ethanol facility. Operated by U.S. EnviroFuels of Tampa, the nearly $80-million facility is designed to produce 40-million gallons of fuel-grade ethanol per year. It's scheduled to open October 2007. The Port of Tampa takes in 40 percent of the state's fuel, Bush said. The port takes in gasoline, aviation and diesel fuel.

Ethanol production from sugar cane in Brazil has led to a new brand of "flex fuel" car engines able to run on ethanol or gasoline, or any mix of the two. Bradley Krohn, president of U.S. EnviroFuels, said there are 5-million automobiles on the road in the United States that can operate on a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent unleaded fuel, but many drivers don't know they have that capability, he said.

Outside the Midwest, there are few places to buy the higher mixture of ethanol fuel, E85. There are none in Florida. Krohn said E85 fuel can cost up to 50 cents per gallon less than unleaded fuel.

"Without ethanol, the price of gasoline would be even higher," said Krohn, since gasoline uses a 10 percent mix of ethanol.

Krohn said his company plans to follow the model used in the Midwest of using corn to produce ethanol at the Tampa facility.

The wide-ranging energy law provides $7.5-million annually for the next four years in corporate income-tax credits and sales-tax exemptions to businesses that produce and distribute clean fuels such as ethanol.

It also offers a $15-million renewable energy technology grant program for new companies seeking to get off the ground. The law creates a legislative-appointed energy commission that will research and recommend energy policy, such as ways to cut greenhouse emissions, which contribute to global warming.

Florida ranks third nationally in total energy consumption. The state's electricity consumption is expected to increase by nearly 30 percent in the next 10 years. Bush said the energy law helps Florida move away from its dependency on oil from unstable countries like Iraq and Iran.

"Other states are light years ahead of us, but this will get us started and will lead to bigger and better things," said James Culp, energy programs manager at the Technological Research And Development Authority in Titusville, created by the state to promote energy solutions.

But critics say it doesn't go far enough, offering a relatively small amount of money to deal with what some say could be the state's biggest long-term economic challenge.

"To be honest, it isn't nearly as far-reaching as it needs to be," said Kevin Endres, U.S. EnviroFuels chief operating officer at the planned ethanol plant in Tampa. "There's a few snippets thrown out there to people, but much more needs to be done."

Experts warn that Florida is the fastest growing state in the nation and imports 99 percent of its fuel, making it highly vulnerable to disruptions in supply and price fluctuations, as witnessed during the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons.

[Last modified June 20, 2006, 06:49:25]

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