Byline: DAVID HUNT
Keeping lights glowing and air conditioners blowing could be a challenge under the governor's order to green up the growing state electric grid.
Gov. Charlie Crist issued an executive order last month requiring the state's utilities to get at least 20 percent of their electricity from renewable resources - such as solar and wind power - by 2020.
Arguing fossil fuels such as coal produce more electricity for less money, some engineers question whether the mandate can be carried out.
Florida is projected to grow by roughly 1,000 people a day throughout the coming years. In Jacksonville alone, electric needs are projected to multiply by 10 within the next decade.
Renewable fuels "no way can provide the electric the citizens of Jacksonville need for the future," said Randy Stroupe, director of electric production for JEA's Northside Generating Station, which produces about 40 percent of Jacksonville's power by burning 1.4 million tons of solid fuel a year.
The bulk of that is petroleum coke, a coal-like byproduct that burns dirtier than coal. But, because of $600 million in environmentally minded upgrades in recent years, the plant remains ahead of schedule in meeting federal air quality standards not enforceable until 2012.
Environmentalists support Crist's move and challenge engineers to find solutions.
"The governor's targets are not impossible. That doesn't mean they'll be easy, but they're not impossible," said Jennifer McCharen, co-founder of the Jacksonville Carbon Neutral Initiative, a grass-roots group that works to get the public talking about climate change.
Natural gas is the primary source of electricity Florida Power and Light distributes throughout 35 counties, including Nassau and St. Johns. Spokesman Mayco Villafana said the utility likely will take a lesson from its sister organization, FPL Energy, to develop renewable resources.
FPL Energy operates in 24 states, harnessing electricity from wind, solar and nuclear sources.
"We have been in this arena of environmental management for years," Villafana said. "The governor's goals we agree with. The question is how do we get there?"
That's a question JEA officials are trying to answer, too.
Bruce Doueck, the city-owned utility's conservation program manager, said JEA has one of the largest solar power programs in the state, but it produces only enough energy to power around 45 homes. Because of Florida's flat terrain, other environmentally friendly options such as wind or hydropower aren't feasible, he added. …