Florida Eyes Green Energy and Greenbacks to Fund It; the State Wants to Boost Its 'Green' Power Supply, but Money Remains a Stumbling Block

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID HUNT

Part entrepreneur, part scientist, they hail from all regions of the state, describing the fruit of their toils with punchy, sometimes esoteric terms like "biomass," "near zero" and the common favorite, "green."

Their ideas alone spin like turbines, generating new ways to harness electricity from sunshine, tree branches and even the gasses emanating from garbage packed in landfills.

Green energy is an emerging industry in Florida, fueled by rising global warming fears and Gov. Charlie Crist's desire to reduce coal in the state's energy diet.

This year, new grant programs through the state departments of Agriculture and Environmental Protection have drawn applications from more than 200 businesses and institutions pledging to spend $1.2 billion on projects to help wean Florida off dirtier power sources.

But there's a catch.

The applications make $360 million in funding requests to get the projects moving.

The state has a mere $37.5 million to give.

Private sector investment has been another sore subject. A Florida Chamber Foundation study released last month suggested only 1.2 percent of the nation's venture capital investments, often the financial embryo for the technology sector, are paid to Florida companies.

The situation leaves guys like Steve Gorman, president of TCT Solar in downtown Jacksonville, wondering when they will finish the projects that, collectively, could make Florida a green energy hub.

"It's a big chunk for us to bite off as a small business," Gorman said.

He described his 24-employee shop's ongoing efforts to find a good substitute for copper as a heat exchange in solar devices. He said the research is 10 years old, but market demand increases by the day as copper becomes more expensive and developing countries such as China consume more and more of the world's supply.

Gorman is asking for $1 million. He pledged to make a $500,000 grant match.

"We really need to be spending more and investing in renewables," he said.

GREEN VS. GREENBACKS

State Sen. Lee Constantine, an Altamonte Springs Republican who also is a member of the Florida Energy Commission, said he wants the state to boost the grant programs.

"We are in a very good position to be the leaders," he said.

Finding more money will be tough, he added, because the Legislature anticipates budget planning that could require billions in spending cuts - a follow-up to the massive cuts in the current year's spending plan.

Constantine said the state already is taking strides into the green energy limelight, pointing to programs such as the Solar Energy Center at the University of Central Florida and a Florida Atlantic University professor's ongoing work to harness power from the Gulf Stream.

Todd Sack, a Jacksonville gastrointestinal doctor who chairs the Florida Energy Commission's climate change committee, said the state should designate a steady investment of at least $200 million annually for renewable energy to begin catching up with work going on in other states and nations.

"It is a growing sector, but nobody knows how big it will be," he said.

GREEN VS. GRID

Florida, population exceeding 18 million, is expected to grow at the rate of nearly 1,000 a day into the future. More people means growth for utilities already capable of producing more than 50,000 megawatts at capacity.

The state Public Service Commission projects electric demand will grow by 2.74 percent annually for the next 10 years. Use of coal is expected to grow, too, from making 29 percent of the state's power in 2005 to 35 percent in 2015. Natural gas is expected to be the biggest electric-producing fuel, contributing nearly 44 percent of the state's power.

Last year, Crist signed an executive order requiring the state's utilities to be generating at least 20 percent of their electricity from renewable resources, such as the sun and wind, by 2020. …