Cleaner, greener future

Published May 14, 2007

Florida lawmakers this year passed an ambitious energy bill that touches everything from construction to alternative fuels to energy awareness. Among other things, HB 7123 earmarks $20-million for an experimental ethanol plant at the University of Florida, sets goals for state fleets to use fuel made from plant materials and expands a sales tax holiday for energy-efficient appliances. The bill now awaits Gov. Charlie Crist's signature. Here's a look at other key pieces of the legislation.

Green building

The bill requires that all city and county buildings be constructed to national standards for energy efficiency and environmental impact. That can add to the cost of construction, but supporters say it saves money overall by reducing operation costs. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker is skeptical. "We're very supportive of doing things for the environment, " he says, but "it's one more thing that's going to cost us more money." But Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio says such requirements will one day be routine "and we will wonder why we built buildings any other way."

Biofuel incentives

The bill includes a 5-cent-per-gallon payment to biofuel producers and retailers, and proposes study of a loan guarantee program for certain kinds of ethanol plants. Those could be a big boon to people like Bradley Krohn, president of U.S. EnviroFuels. Krohn hopes to build the state's first ethanol production plant in Hillsborough County. He calls the Florida energy bill "a catalyst to stimulate production, use and demand for ethanol."

Greenhouse gases and renewable energy

These provisions require the state to keep track of carbon emissions and set goals for meeting energy needs through renewable sources. It means polluters like TECO and Progress Energy will have to report their carbon emissions to the state. Eventually, this could lead to limits on emissions and taxes or other requirements of those who exceed them.

Green schools

The bill earmarks $3.5-million in grants for construction of three green schools. Pasco school officials say they're already planning to apply for a grant to help build a green elementary school. The bill also requires that by 2008, at least 20 percent of total diesel fuel purchases by school districts be biodiesel from plant sources. Key words in this provision may be "subject to availability." Tom Callahan, supervisor of transportation maintenance for Pasco schools, says the district last year tried to buy biodiesel for its fleet, but vendors said none was available.

Farm to fuel initiatives

Last year, the Legislature appropriated $12.5-million to look for ways to turn Florida crops into fuel. This year's bill boosts that amount to $37.5-million. That's good news for Hillsborough County strawberry farmer Mike Lott, who now grows cantaloupes in the off-season. If research shows that crops such as sorghum and grass can be used for ethanol, he might eventually switch. "Everybody is interested in seeing where this goes, " he says.