Florida Legislator Pushing for Renewable Energy R&D

From the Bradenton Herald, a profile of Florida state senator Mike Bennett. This Republican legislator has spent a number of years as the lone voice of support for renewable energy research in Tallahassee, but it looks like a convergence of events (hurricanes, proposed Gulf of Mexico oil drilling, and geopolitics) are garnering him more attention these days:

It’s a statement that state Sen. Mike Bennett likes to repeat over and over again.
If President John F. Kennedy had said in the early 1960s that the United States would become independent of foreign oil – instead of putting a man on the moon – the nation would no longer be dependent on foreign oil.

So far, Bennett said, the political willpower to put the nation, and Florida, on the leading edge of alternative energy has been lacking. But there are signs that this year, renewable energy efforts in the Florida Legislature could have more support.

Two years ago, Bennett tried to get $1 million in the state budget to put an alternative energy research center in Bradenton. Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed the item because he viewed it as a local pork project, Bennett then said.

In 2005, Bennett filed a bill that would have created an independent, not-for-profit Alternative Energy Technology Center to coordinate scientific research on concepts like ethanol, solar and wind energy, biomass, and fuel-cell technology. It died in its last committee stop.

During the second half of last year, the political climate surrounding energy began to shift.

In short, Bennett’s “energy independence” rhetoric seems to be gaining some traction. There are still stumbling blocks: Bennett supports nuclear energy development as part of his plan, and then there are the issues of costs and whether to pass them on to consumers in the form of surcharges on their utility bills.

While I’m happy to see these ideas taking hold in the Sunshine State, Florida also seems like a particularly egregious example of poor environmental planning in general: with builders on the hunt for any land available on which they can throw up more condos and strip malls, I have to wonder if renewable energy development will really mean much. I suppose this is the problem most places — we have to look not only at new sources of energy, but what we’re using it for in the first place. A pretty simple idea, but one fraught with political risk…

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