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Context Florida: Barney Bishop, All sources needed to provide energy security

Monday, June 29, 2015

When speaking about energy for our country, one is typically labeled either a shill for big oil or a left-wing environmentalist, depending on argument. That’s never been clearer than during the past month when my comments on the topic made the rounds in print and online.

To be clear, many Floridians and I, think smart energy policy can include a sound environment and that it must for our economy and way of life. Speaking of our way of life, we all enjoy flicking a switch and lights come on. During the summer, we don’t give a second thought to crisp,cool air conditioning for our homes and businesses

Energy is not only important to our way of life, but also our economy.

Businesses don’t want to invest in a place where rolling blackouts such as California has famously experienced. Energy is critical not only to our state, but our nation. Make no mistake, Florida contributes to our energy grid and has for decades with onshore drilling in the southwest and northwest corners of our state. Our power plants produce cleaner energy, and our coasts have vast resources to aid in our energy security.

What I mean by energy security is that as a nation we should rely on our own sources of oil and natural gas rather than depending on OPEC countries, which continually puts us at an economic disadvantage. It also gives Washington, D.C., a reason to meddle in foreign wars to protect our sources of oil. It’s critical that the United States develop our energy resources as cleanly as possible so we aren’t held hostage by foreign oil.

Resources means all resources, not just fossil fuels. Solar, wind, biofuel, nuclear and others are all critical to our future energy portfolio. But let’s recognize that just as the Deepwater Horizon spill is the butt of every anti-drilling argument, those emerging energy technologies aren’t without harm.

Solar panels kill thousands of birds annually in California, and the chemicals used to produce them are highly toxic and produce waste that must be neutralized. They also are not yet economically feasible on their own and require government subsidies to be viable. Wind-generate power another emerging technology used around the globe. Floridians may not recognize that wind turbines are often 40 stories tall, but they’re loud, unsightly and have been cited in bird deaths, including bald eagles, out West.

For every argument, there’s always a counterargument. In this debate, the argument is clear: energy security vs. do nothing. Those opposed to energy development are actually touting an opinion on climate change, using marine life and other arguments to boost their disagreement to the energy industry.

That’s been apparent recently on the topic of seismic testing. Even though Florida isn’t part of this or the next planning stages for offshore drilling – which puts the state out of bounds for drilling until 2022 – some in Florida don’t even want to consider seismic technology, which provides knowledge about what oil and gas is available off the coast. President Barack Obama has approved a plan to allow seismic testing in the Atlantic to off Central Florida’s coast.

On the Atlantic, they argue marine life and tourism would be harmed. In the Panhandle, they argue tourism and military would be affected. Yet, those are arguments about offshore drilling, not seismic testing. Let’s get the information and then have the debate about the next steps.

As a nation, we need a steady source of energy. Everyone knows and accepts that. But we’re now hearing the “not in my backyard” arguments in Florida that the Kennedys made when they said they wanted wind turbines, just not near Martha’s Vineyard where they and their friends wined and dined.

Alternative sources of energy are necessary and should continue to be developed. But our country – and the world – is and will be dependent on fossil fuels for at least a few more generations so we shouldn’t ignore that fact. Until China, India and others adhere to stricter environmental practices and that becomes a global priority, we will have to deal with pollution problems across the world. We must strive for cleaner technology with the realization that we must not shut the door to resources that are plentiful in our backyards.

Barney Bishop III is CEO of Barney Bishop Consulting LLC in Tallahassee and the former President & CEO of Associated Industries of Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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