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It’s clear that renewable energy mandates are working.  The states that have passed measures mandating percentages of renewable energy are building clean energy businesses and jobs faster than the states without mandates.  It’s also clear that the states of the old south are lagging behind.  When you look at a map of the 37 states that have legislated standards or voluntary goals for renewable energy the old south looks like it’s still in rebellion.  Except for Texas, North Carolina and Virginia, the states still holding out against mandates are the same ones that gave Abe Lincoln heartburn.

Repealing the Florida ethanol mandate must have made the legislators and governor stiffen with state pride.  They fired some buckshot at the federal government.  Big Deal!  What they’ve done won’t change the federal mandate.  Much worse is they shot a hole in the foot of the nascent Florida advanced biofuel industry.  Senators of both parties joined the governor with their non-alcoholic toast.

But why would they want to repeal when the evidence shows that mandates create new businesses and jobs; when polls show people want cleaner energy choices?  Adam Putnam’s explanation why he chose not to oppose the ethanol repeal bill this year helped me understand.

“A year ago, my concern was we would be sending a message to potential investors in the state that Florida was no longer concerned about working on biofuel-related projects.”  Very good.  This was a legitimate concern.  Then this: “Since then, there have been several high-profile private sector decisions to walk away from biofuel investments in the state of Florida, not because of anything related to Florida, because the sector itself, the private capital has gravitated to fracking and natural gas development.”

Huh?…Fracking?…Natural gas development?  The purpose of the ethanol mandate was to draw entrepreneurs to Florida to make a renewable biofuel.  That is happening.  Innovators have designed more efficient methods of production and without using corn as a raw material.  Ethanol is now being produced in the state!  The company that “walked away” from a Florida commitment was none other than BP, the giant fossil fuel company now plagued by enormous financial obligations with which we are all familiar.

One of the largest energy companies in the world has decided that their relatively small investment in Florida biofuels no longer suits their prospects for profits.  And this makes the Secretary of Agriculture feel better about dropping his opposition to the ethanol repeal bill.  Meanwhile, smaller start-up companies that are making good on their commitments have lost their trust in state government.

This sounds to me like the old south where public servants took their orders from high-profile plantation owners.

Sam Kendall

Putnam Expects Little Backlash From End Of Ethanol Law

NRDC Report: State RE Standards Create Jobs

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Legislators have several ways to influence the direction of civilization.  They can tax activities or products that are believed to be unhealthy; so-called sin taxes.  They can provide tax money for incentives for the producers of desired products and activities.  Or they can simply legislate that the preferred activities or products become part of the civilization; part of the marketplace for consumers.  The latter method, referred to as a mandate or standard, has the advantage that raising taxes is not necessary.  It also has the advantage of providing a guaranteed market for the new product.  It attracts innovators and investors, new businesses and employment opportunities.

Mandates and standards become necessary when a consensus develops that a society is moving inevitably toward an undesirable outcome.  They become necessary when the economic system, the market for goods and services, is not working to change the direction.  I’m talking about the self-destructing path we’ve taken by continuing to use oil in transportation fuels.  Containing the particulate and gaseous pollutants from gasoline combustion has been an ongoing problem for Americans.  Through the years auto makers have been required to find ways of controlling the noxious exhaust. The one pollutant that still eludes a fix is carbon dioxide.

In 2008 the legislature mandated that ethanol be added to gasoline.  Adding a renewable fuel would influence atmospheric amounts of CO2 because plants take it out of the air.  Several decades ago a researcher at the University of Florida discovered how to make ethanol without using corn.  His discovery led to the use of non-edible plants to make ethanol; weeds and grasses, leaves and wood, even municipal garbage.  After 2008 a number of far-sighted innovators came to Florida to build production facilities and market their non-corn ethanol products.

Now a company in South Florida is producing ethanol from municipal waste and a company on the west coast is making ethanol from algae.  The U of F has opened a department to research new sources for ethanol.  Corn ethanol has several disadvantages although it still trumps oil because it’s renewable.  Most of the emerging non-corn, cellulosic ethanol products can be produced with less water and energy and reduce life-cycle greenhouse gases even further.

The Florida climate can support a variety of plant stocks that could become important to a new ethanol industry.  Iowa relies on only one source for their ethanol; corn.  That state leads the nation in ethanol production producing almost 30 percent of our total supply.  That production supports 55,000 in state jobs and adds $5.4 billion to their economy.  Could Florida become the next Iowa with a thriving, innovative, ethanol industry that doesn’t disrupt food production while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gases?  Thanks to the 2008 legislature we have already started in that direction.

Now the 2013 legislators have voted to reverse the decision of 2008.  The new membership apparently has some ideological conflict with using government to advance the welfare of society.  They want to let the marketplace make us better.

What choices have consumers had with regard to their transportation fuels?  Federal and state governments have been shaking hands with oil drillers for over a century.  Oil dominates our society.  We’ve burned so much of it the earth is starting to suffocate even as oil barons shrug off the risks of harder to access deposits.  Look at the results of the BP spill in the Gulf.  Look at the black pipeline muck that ran in the streets of an Arkansas town last month.  Tar sands extraction is ruining a great Canadian forest that breathes oxygen into the atmosphere and provides a home for the earth’s creatures.  Petroleum gasoline combustion is the second largest source of carbon dioxide pollution in the world.  Last year the CEO of Exxon-Mobile made a comment regarding the effects of climate change: “(In a free market) farmers (affected by droughts and floods) can always move to another location.”

It’s his market!

Governor Scott can veto the ethanol repeal bill.  He has good reasons to do so.

 

Sam Kendall

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Recently I ran across an article in North American Clean Energy where an economist was saying that grid parity is the only reason why the use of photovoltaic solar energy will become widespread.  Personally, I believe that this is largely true in the U.S.  In this country, it is usually all about money, and it is also all about short-sighted thinking.  Florida and the other 49 states largely live in denial of the real reason to adopt renewable energy sooner rather than later.  The real reason is the risk of consequences of human-caused climate change.

On NPR on 4-5-12, they did a segment on an article in Nature about a possible mechanism for the global warming that led to the end of the last ice age, where glaciers melted and the sea level rose.  Whatever started the process led to a release of Earth’s sequestered carbon dioxide and magnified the greenhouse effect.  Quoting the news story which describes the carbon dioxide release:  “…that’s a process that has taken about 8,000 years. And…research found that the amount of CO2 it took to end the ice age is about the same amount as humans have added to the atmosphere in the past century.”

Once again, human alteration of the air has been reported in the mainstream news media.  I estimate that at least about half of the people in this nation live in denial of the fact that humans are so numerous and so invasive that now we are having a profound effect on our atmosphere.  This effect is a fact, because you can look up the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and compare it to the amount of extra carbon dioxide that we are adding to it each year.  Simple arithmetic will show you that we are causing the entire measured yearly rise in the atmospheric CO2 level.  The deniers apparently have not done the arithmetic to see for themselves.  Personally, I think this is tragic.

What is it going to take before Americans get serious and stop pouring megatons of CO2 in the air from burning fossil fuel?  Since Americans live by crisis, my guess is that if a large chunk of Western Antarctica suddenly breaks off, falls into the ocean, and raises the average sea level about two feet, this might be enough to cause a critical mass of Americans to stop using fossil fuel.  That’s because many municipalities such as Miami would quickly be gravely injured.

If we were wise, before such a disaster occurred we would all quickly change over to using renewable energy exclusively.  Renewable energy is the only source of power that does not increase net CO2 in the air and  does not cause a net thermal gain in the environment.  Again, greenhouse gases and net thermal gain from our fuel sources are huge problems lately, and renewable energy saves us from generating both.  And this is not the only reason for switching to renewable energy.  Both fossil and nuclear energy sources are fraught with so many other types of ongoing pollution including the danger of catastrophic pollution that it is compelling to phase them out as soon as possible.

The Florida Renewable Energy Association believes that we can make the switch to using renewable energy completely over a relatively short period, and we will be elaborating on this in the near future.  So stay tuned, and keep planning for your own personal renewable future.

Robert Stonerock, Jr., M.D.

President of FREA

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Enthusiasm among Florida environmentalists for the utility scale solar projects constructed by Florida Power and Light is still running high.  These megawatt-size, pilot, photovoltaic and thermal plants in Desoto, Martin and Brevard counties follow several decades behind what California utilities have already accomplished.  Nevertheless, the Florida environmental community is happy to see the process started here where sunshine is also bountiful.  California will continue to “outshine” Florida in renewable energy because their legislators have made it legally binding.  Utilities there are currently pursuing a mandated renewable energy standard of 33% by 2020.  The huge, utility scale solar plants out there will be the major contributors to meeting the standard.  Is there anything Florida environmentalists can learn from the California pioneers?  With such a wide start, we now have time to review those California accomplishments and think about any issues we might want to avoid here in Florida.

As I mentioned, the utility scale projects out there are huge.  Consider that a 1000 megawatt concentrating solar thermal plant requires about 6000 acres for all the mirrors, tubes and boiler and a similar megawatt photovoltaic plant needs more than 12,000 acres of land to accommodate the big numbers of modestly powered solar arrays.  In contrast, a 1000 megawatt coal or nuclear plant takes up only 640 acres.  In California, they have a desert large enough to accommodate the big solar plants but environmentalists are objecting because specialized habitat for desert tortoises and other creatures is being disturbed.  Now utilities are applying to build on public lands.  Space for these solar plants is becoming a contentious issue.

Despite predictions by some climate scientists that droughts in Florida will be more severe in the future, we still have no deserts here.  Utilities will have to locate their solar farms on “green space.”  The FPL Desoto 25 megawatt PV plant is located on 180 acres.  If that plant would be expanded to just 300 megawatts, the size of a typical coal plant, the PV panels would cover 2160 acres of land.  An acre is about the size of a football field.  The plant is already fenced off to keep out all wildlife except birds.  Can we expect these  solar farms will ever be made compatible with biodiversity and wildlife?  If FPL decided to build a 300 megawatt PV plant where would they build it?  Will Florida utilities also apply to build on public lands when all their disturbed land is taken?

Solar installations distributed over a wide range of commercial and residential rooftops and backyards along with small power production facilities of 1-5 megawatts feeding the grid would provide balance to utility scale systems that might range from 25-40 MW constructed on already disturbed lands and in highway right-of-ways.  An energy plan that distributes power in this way would balance the need for clean energy with the need to retain green space on private and public lands.  It would avoid conflicts with expanding agricultural lands for bio crops.  But the legislation in Tallahassee getting the most attention now favors only utility scale solar installations.  Legislators and utility officials may eventually regret this approach if the Florida environmental community follows the lead of the California protesters.

   California Solar Farm

Sam Kendall

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In his book, Your World Is About To Get a Whole Lot Smaller, Toronto economist Jeff Rubin argues that Americans never pointed their finger at the real cause of the great 2008 recession.  We blame fraudulent credit reporting agencies, unscrupulous mortgage companies, “fat cat” bankers and even the federal government.  All these and more may have played a role in the economic dip, but Rubin argues that the main cause of the down cycle was the high price of oil.  When a barrel of it reached $140 and gasoline topped $4/ gallon in 2008, commerce could barely continue.  Businesses couldn’t afford to deliver their goods.  Shippers couldn’t afford diesel for international trade.  Truckers were clamoring for biodiesel.  The vast American middle class cut back on their favorite activity: driving.  They stopped driving to grandma’s, let alone Disneyworld.  The result: recession.

Was Big Oil manipulating prices?  Maybe.  But what we see is Big Oil now having to share this dwindling resource with a much larger audience, namely, the rest of the world.  In Saudi Arabia, formerly our largest supplier, the expanding middle class is buying and driving automobiles and feels entitled to burn their own oil.  We all know that China and India are trying to copy the American dream with a car for everyone.  Expanding middle classes in countries around the world are now competing for the oil the US depends on.  The result: higher gasoline and diesel prices in the US.  Another result, God forbid: drilling in Arctic waters.

The recession dropped oil to $35 a barrel in 2009, but it hasn’t taken long for the price to rebound.  After all, the American economy depends on oil for commerce.  Economic recovery equals oil consumption equals higher gasoline prices.  By December of 2010, oil had already passed $90 a barrel.  Rubin predicts that it will keep going up to probably $120 by this summer.  Can we have a double dip recession?  Of course, we can.  Can we do worse than that?  What will happen to the economy when oil reaches $150 per barrel?

The recovery from this stubborn downturn is taking longer because more people now understand the cause.  We have to break our bond to oil.  This means gearing up a brand new energy infrastructure.  It means building plants to produce sustainable biofuels and building cars capable of running on these fuels.  It means building electric cars and solar panel factories and wind turbine factories to provide clean and sustainable electricity to charge the EVs.  It means eliminating the inefficiencies in public transportation and building fast rail systems designed for people and not just freight.  Creating the new energy infrastructure is taking time and money, not to mention facing political and regulatory barriers.  We are all going to have to suffer some inconveniences and price swings as new fuels make  their way into the marketplace.  The work force will have to embrace retraining to move employment back to normal levels.

The good news is that new government standards for biofuel production have created new business opportunities.  According to an article in Florida Trend, the Energy and Security Act of 2007 means that 270 million gallons of ethanol is needed in Florida every year.  There are currently no plants producing here.  Scanning Florida newspapers over the last three months, I have found seventeen new companies planning, or already investing in, alternatives to oil.  Others may be out there.  Some of these will come on line in 2011.  Thanks to the determination of Congressman John Mica, Central Florida will soon have a commuter rail system and with Senator Bill Nelson the two successfully pressed for Tampa-Orlando, federal high speed rail money.  We citizens shouldn’t be tempted to go back to the old ways either.  Auto manufacturers are providing flex-fuel, electric, hybrid and higher efficiency vehicles and we all need to make the effort to stay out of the low-mileage, guzzlers of the past.  The time line for success of the transition to sustainable fuels depends on how willingly our society will support these new businesses and vehicles.  This is the beginning of the end of the volatile, oil dependency culture.

Sam Kendall

Alternative Fuel Companies

Southeastern Renewable Fuels, Hendry County, sweet sorghum to ethanol; Clean Fuel Lakeland, Polk County, biodiesel; Highlands Envirofuels, Highlands County, sweet sorghum to ethanol; Agri-Source Fuels, Dade City, biodiesel; Vercipia Ethanol, Highlands County, cellulosic ethanol; Vision/FL, Osceola County, sweet sorghum to ethanol; INEOS Bio, Vero Beach, ethanol from waste; Mad Dog Mulching, Tampa, corn ethanol; Algenol Biofuels, Lee County, algae to ethanol; U of F testing facility, Taylor County, cellulosic ethanol; Wise Gas, Fort Lauderdale, compressed natural gas; Coskata, Hendry County, sugar cane to ethanol; Smart Fuels, Lake County, biodiesel; Energy One, Lake Wales, corn ethanol; LS9, California advanced fuel company with demonstration facility in Florida; Alternative Fuels America, Gainesville, biodiesel; Integrated Energy Partners, Santa Rosa County, biodiesel.

Jeff Rubin BLOG

Florida Trend: Profile on Energy in Florida

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The Florida Energy and Climate Commission is sponsoring a solar information event on Wednesday, September 22, at the Homebuilders Association Office in Maitland.  The address is 544 Mayo Avenue.  Time 6 – 9 PM.

David Bessette, former president of the Solar Energy Industries Association will present information and answer questions about solar installations and the programs available from utiities and government to save homeowners and businesses money.

You are advised to register ahead as seating is limited.  Call 407-846-7830 or 1-888-676-5271

Sam Kendall

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How Sweet It Is!  Does anyone doubt that we have entered the New Era?

I had sent an email to my Central Florida Congressman, John Mica, urging him to support the Bill.  He wrote back that he understands the need to protect the environment, but he is concerned about the loss of so many jobs.  He says the amount of green jobs created by the legislation will pale when compared with the millions lost due to these new “energy taxes.”  He says the legislation will move household energy costs up by $3128 per year.

In this new Renewable Energy Era, we will need congressmen who are serious enough about protecting the environment that they will seek out ways to assist workers transitioning from carbon intense jobs to clean energy jobs.  The Bill is forward looking.  Unfortunately, a lot of  congressmen can’t see past their next pay check.  The transition to solar and renewables would be moving along much more efficiently if the Republicans had seen years ago that a clean environment translates into millions of jobs and incomes.  Now, especially at state and local levels. a few of them are starting to see how this works.  We’ll just have to pull Congressman Mica along with us!  If he is worried about his energy costs rising, I suggest a home energy survey, investing in the most energy efficient appliances and installing some solar panels right away.  If he does that now, his future energy costs will go down.

Sam Kendall

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