Saturday, September 8, 2012

Who's Got the Power?

By Marcia Biggs
Chair, Tampa Bay Sierra Club

I recently attended a public forum by Adam Putnam  on "Florida's Energy Future: Increasing Diversity in Florida's Energy Portfolio." Putnam is commissioner for the Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services and has inherited the Office of Energy under his domain. The program was presented by the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at  St. Petersburg College.  Putnam made it clear from the start that he sees "diversity" in the state's energy future summed up  in two words: "natural gas."  He said the Solar Energy Rebate Program of 2010 was a "disaster" because TOO MANY PEOPLE SIGNED UP (12,000 plus) ... and that $200 million in grant money to fund solar energy research was a waste, because, when the recipients were audited they found 2 companies had gone bankrupt and there was over $2 million attributed to fraud. Not bad odds in my book when you're talking $200 million.
Putnam sees the future, and it's gas ... lots of gas. Coal burning plants mean jobs so not ready to pull the plug yet. Nuclear energy? Still on the ouija board but let's not talk about the millions of dollars homeowners will be forced to pay in advance. Not when there are 2 pipelines now from Louisiana delivering natural gas right to Florida! It's abundant and affordable, says Putnam,  not like solar energy that relies on the sun, and, well, you know how rare that resource is here in the Sunshine State.
A few in the audience got a chance to speak, including St. Petersburg City Councilman Karl Nurse who urged Putnam to consider a requirement converting street lights across the state to LED for both financial and energy savings.  Also Steven Smith for Southern Energy Alliance spoke eloquently about the importance of using scientific study data to determine our energy future like other southern states do, but Putnam seemed none too interested in that. The lecture video is  posted on http://spcollege.edu/solutions/forums.html (YouTube) along with several other Energy lectures held at the Institute in the past year.
It was disheartening to see Putnam so adament in his conviction that one form of energy is "the way" while basically waving away solar, wind and other cleaner forms of energy as "too expensive" or "too unknown".  President Obama supports a truly diversified energy portfolio that includes natural gas, but also  other forms of alternative power. If one thing was clear at this forum, there is a groundswell of Florida residents, academics and public officials  who support and will continue to push for a move to clean, alternative fuels such as solar.  Shine on!