Crist Wants Florida to Go Back to Green; He Said the State's Economy Has a Link to the Environment

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Byline: DAVID HUNT

Gov. Charlie Crist said the oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico makes it clear that the state should do more to back green energy development.

"I don't know how you could have a different view of it," Crist said. "Our economy, almost uniquely in America, is inextricably linked to our environment. If we do harm to the environment, all we do is hurt jobs in Florida."

But the question is what to do and who's going to get behind it.

It's unclear if a special legislative session will be called to prepare for any effects the spill may have on Florida's coastline. Meanwhile, a budget crunch is forcing the sun to set on a popular solar rebate program, and a report out last week ranks Florida fourth in the nation for the amount of imported coal it burns to produce electricity

The solar program provided people and businesses grants to install solar systems. Those grants had become a good source of revenue for the state's solar businesses.

The research report came from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit. The group said Florida utilities spend $1.6 billion on coal imports annually, a number surpassed only by Texas, North Carolina and Georgia.

That snapshot comes three years after Crist joined California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at a climate summit in Miami to call for more renewable forms of energy in the state's electricity grid. Locally, it was a policy move that killed a coal plant project JEA had already spent $4.6 million planning.

Crist seemed to take over as governor with good intentions for the environment. In 2007, he vetoed an energy bill that he said didn't go far enough to kick the state of its fossil fuel habit. Last year, he backed a measure by the late Sen. Jim King that called for state utilities to produce 20 percent of their power from renewable or nuclear energy by 2020.

The "20 by 2020" bill never made it to his desk and, with King gone, wasn't brought up this year.

State support for green energy has long been criticized as underfunded. In 2008, entrepreneurs turned in $360 million worth of grant requests to get green energy projects moving, but the state had a mere $37. …