Analysts Say Crist's Renewable Energy Goals Are Reachable; Alternative FUELS Consultants Told the Commission That the 20 Percent Benchmark Is Possible with New Policies and Good Luck

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Byline: STEVE PATTERSON

TALLAHASSEE - Solar and biomass power can supply significantly more of Florida's electricity within about a decade, analysts told a state agency that regulates power companies Wednesday.

But that same estimate suggests the state could need new policies and good luck to meet a goal for renewable fuel use that Gov. Charlie Crist proposed last year.

The analysis from consultants hired by the Florida Public Service Commission projected that by 2020, anywhere from 6 percent to 27 percent of the electricity used in Florida could be derived from renewable sources such as solar power.

Crist suggested a 20 percent benchmark for 2020 when he launched a broad initiative in 2007 to address climate change, which is widely attributed to the buildup of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and other sources.

Environmental activists asked the commission to try hard to reach that mark.

"It's an important goal. It shows that Florida is open for business" with companies making alternative energy, said George Cavros, an attorney for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The Legislature has told the Public Service Commission to propose a firm requirement for utilities to meet and to have that ready by Feb. 1. The commission hired Navigant Consulting to project how available and financially competitive renewable fuel sources would be by 2020.

The answer delivered Wednesday wasn't conclusive, and commissioners didn't make any final decisions.

The consultants said the price of traditional fossil fuels would be the biggest - and most unpredictable - issue on how fast alternatives would be financially viable.

"There is a very large range of potential," said Jay Paidipati, a managing consultant at Navigant. He said market conditions could make renewable sources useful for anywhere from 1.8 billion to 18 billion watts of power capacity. By comparison, JEA has capacity to produce about 2.4 billion watts of power at any given time.

Consultants said they projected a half-dozen different situations involving good and bad market conditions. …