Florida Renewable Energy Plan a Job and Economy Juggernaut
By David Sassoon. Originally published May 28, 2009, at Solveclimate
If Florida embraced its solar and wind power potential and got 20 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020, it would create 37,000 new jobs, generate more than $16 billion in economic activity by 2025, and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 319 million tons, a new study commissioned by the state Department of Environmental Protection shows.
The just-released report examined 28 policy measures in Republican Gov. Charlie Crist’s 2008 Climate Action Plan, including the 20 percent by 2020 renewable electricity standard.
In all, it found that implementing the full Climate Action Plan could add almost 150,000 new jobs and bring almost $40 billion in increased economic activity to the Sunshine state.
Unfortunately, the Florida legislature undermined the governor’s efforts to turn that renewable energy standard into law this spring during what longtime observers of the statehouse said was one of the most dysfunctional and depressing legislative sessions in memory.
The new report reveals just how much economic opportunity was squandered by recalcitrant lawmakers, even as they faced a $6 billion budget deficit.
After that astonishing lapse of legislative judgment, the governor’s office is now shifting to Plan B: It hopes to tap into the billions of federal stimulus dollars that are being made available to state energy offices around the country.
Florida, like many other states, developed its climate action plan in anticipation of federal action on climate change. The current version of the Waxman-Markey climate bill in the U.S. House calls for a 20 percent nationwide renewable electricity standard by 2020, identical to Florida’s target.
Crist’s office is not giving up on its clean energy agenda or its RES goal. It’s using budgetary and executive authority to show leadership within a sun-drenched region of the country that has been largely laggard on clean energy mandates.
Just in time to make a Department of Energy deadline, Crist’s office submitted an application for $126 million in federal stimulus funds to provide what would be the biggest single investment in clean energy and energy efficiency in the state’s history.
A look at the application, available on the Florida’s official climate change web site, shows where most of the federal funding would go. The biggest single allocation is $24 million for a renewable energy grant program. Another $20 million would go for schools to integrate solar panels and hurricane shelters into school construction and clean energy trades into curricula. Another $15 million would be available for solar energy loans and incentives.
Fifteen million dollars is also slated for a residential retrofit program to kick start the housing industry through energy efficiency upgrades. The housing industry is among the hardest hit in the state economy, with property appraisers and construction workers alike thrown out of work.
“As we looked at opportunities for recovery, the Climate Action Plan provided a critical input into how to allocate budget dollars,” said Steve Adams, director of policy for the governor’s energy office. “Putting the federal energy application together was a slam dunk because we had already done the work.”
State energy offices that applied for federal stimulus funds needed to demonstrate their potential for making greenhouse gas reductions, energy efficiency improvements and job creation in their applications. Crist’s Climate Action Plan, completed in October 2008, provided the menu of policy options and quantifications that Florida needed.
What was particularly noteworthy about the plan was that it emerged from the Republican stronghold of Crist’s administration. Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole headed up the governor’s Action Team on Energy and Climate Change, which produced the plan. He had been deputy secretary under former Gov. Jeb Bush.
Kathleen Shanahan, who was Jeb Bush’s chief of staff and served as chief of staff for Vice President-elect Dick Cheney during the 2000 presidential campaign and transition, also served on the Action Team. So did Mark Kaplan, another former Jeb Bush chief of staff, and Rick Baker, the Republican Mayor of St. Petersburg. All 50 recommendations were adopted unanimously by the 27 members of the action team.
The team released its plan less than a month before the presidential elections, just as the depth seriousness of the economic crisis was sinking in. Still, the Florida team had this to say in the Executive Summary:
“The Action Team completes its charge during a time of economic uncertainty. While it may be assumed by some readers that the current economic environment would hamper Florida’s progress toward a low-carbon economy, the Action Team firmly believes that current economic conditions precisely sharpen the ‘call to action’ first issued by Governor Crist in 2007.
“Now is the time for strategic investment in Florida’s low-carbon energy infrastructure if we are to be successful in diversifying the state’s economy, creating new job opportunities, and positioning Florida’s ‘green tech’ sector as an economic engine for growth.”
The plan forecast $28 billion in economic benefit and a 33 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2025 if all 50 policy recommendations were implemented. Crist ordered up a more rigorous analysis to confirm the Action Plan’s projections, and those were the results that were just released.
The macroeconomic analysis was conducted by the Center for Climate Strategies using the Regional Economic Modeling, Inc. (REMI) Policy Insight Model. The REMI model has been extensively peer-reviewed and is a widely used state-level economic modeling software package. Among its many other uses, the REMI Model has been applied successfully to forecast the impacts of changes in tax rates, the exit or entry of major businesses, and the impacts of energy and environmental policy actions by many states.
The new study also found other win-win policies that were part of the Governor’s Climate Action Plan. It found that the creation of new forests and restoration of previously forested lands in Florida would create more than $8 billion of net new cumulative economic activity and 40,000 net new jobs; that a low carbon fuel standard would bring almost $4 billion of net cumulative economic benefit and create more than 11,000 net new jobs; and that promoting energy efficiency residential buildings would bring $3 billion in net cumulative economic benefit and create almost 11,000 new jobs.
Image credit: NREL/DOE