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Orlando Sentinel: Florida’s energy future: Renewable-fuel reform

Monday, November 25, 2013

By Leticia Adams, Guest columnist

In the wake of a historic federal government shutdown, it is imperative that we now refocus on the short- and long-term goals of our state and nation. Pressing issues from energy security to national defense continue to affect millions of Americans each day.

In recent years, an increasing number of Americans have decided to make Florida more than just a vacation destination, choosing our state as their new permanent home. The Sunshine State will soon pass New York to become the third-largest state in the nation, and six million new residents will call Florida home by 2030.

To secure Florida’s future, we must prepare for a growing population and its accompanying impact on Florida’s energy systems. In looking at current economic conditions as well as future economic growth, proactive decisions about our energy policy and the need to diversify our options are in order.

The federal Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires increasing amounts of ethanol to be blended into all U.S. gasoline, places a heavy burden on many of Florida’s businesses and conflicts with state energy-policy goals. In this crucial time of economic recovery, business owners and their families cannot afford the uncertainty and increased costs associated with this outdated policy.

The RFS was originally designed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, which have already otherwise been considerably diminished. These emissions have been significantly reduced over the past 10 years, not because of increased regulation, but due to improved fuel economy, technological advances and an increase in production of oil and natural gas.

A long-term, comprehensive energy policy that provides reliable, cost-effective energy sources and supports economic growth is essential to the future prosperity of our state. While Florida continues to promote a stable, predictable regulatory and business climate, we also continue to support the deployment of existing and alternative energy sources and new research and development efforts that facilitate fuel-source diversification.

Diversity is essential to satisfying the state’s growing energy needs for electricity and for mobile fuels. With increased fuel diversity, alternative sources of energy will grow and expand, while the state will have greater energy security and attractiveness.

This month, the EPA proposed lowering 2014 RFS requirements by about 3 billion; however future projections, beyond 2014, require refiners to add increasing amounts of ethanol to the nation’s transportation fuel supply — up to 36 billion gallons by 2022. But industry leaders say they are hitting a “blend wall,” where they can no longer mix in enough ethanol to meet the renewable fuel mandate’s volumetric targets without exceeding a 10 percent threshold acceptable for use in all cars and trucks — and boats, motorcycles, lawnmowers and other equipment with small engines. All can experience severe damage if fueled with more than 10 percent ethanol blends. Without reform, this policy puts the safety of Florida drivers and consumers on the line.

While it is important to reform the RFS now, this can and should be done without harming current investments. There are several commercial advanced biofuel ethanol projects in Florida that have been recently completed or are in development that encompass a total investment in excess of $1 billion in capital. The state has invested about $39 million in grant awards for the development of biofuels since 2006.

Florida has been an agricultural state throughout its modern history, and energy supply has become an increasingly important factor in what farms produce. Florida has been a leader in alternative biofuel crops that can be used to produce energy, which have increased employment among many sectors within the industry.

However, outdated biofuel mandates place an unnecessary strain on the nation’s fragile economy and could put consumers in harm’s way. They should be reformed and updated to aid recovery and protect state citizens. Just last month, more than 100 members of Congress signed a letter calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to lower the RFS, arguing the current mandate is unrealistic and asking that the RFS mandate be adjusted down to align with gasoline market conditions and realities.

With the government shutdown behind us, it is important to focus on long-term issues that matter. We must hold our elected officials accountable for the security of our nation’s energy and continue to push for RFS reform. Floridians deserve a renewable-energy plan that will secure our future.

Leticia Adams is the director of infrastructure and governance policy for the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

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