Legislature retreated from high profile energy legislation this year.

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After a 2012 focused on major long-term energy issues, the Legislature retreated a bit from high profile energy legislation this year, reports Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida. 

Instead, attention was more narrowly focused on altering existing laws regarding the construction of nuclear power plants and the use of ethanol in gas, and in offering some help for the natural gas market. 

And that, to some extent, is what is being sent to Gov. Rick Scott.

Other topics, from oil drilling in the Panhandle to imposing regulations for the process known as “fracking” never got a final vote.

For energy companies, no news was good news. 

“Florida legislators first and most importantly did no harm in energy related issues,” declared Florida Petroleum Council Executive Director David Mica. 

Some of that lack of desire was in part attributed to a lingering fatigue from Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam’s diverse 2012 energy package – filled with tax credits on biofuels and exemptions for renewable technologies – that received a lukewarm nod of support from Gov. Rick Scott, who allowed the effort to become law without his signature.

Key issues this year:

Ethanol

With relative ease, legislators voted to repeal (SB 320) the 2008 Florida Renewable Fuel Standard Act that requires most gas sold in the state to include nearly 10 percent ethanol.

House Bill sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, called the law a “flawed business model” for government to require people to buy products. 

“Do we believe in free markets or not?” Gaetz asked.

A few lawmakers expressed concerns the repeal would send a signal that Florida wasn’t interested in alternative energies.

Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, argued the proposal “does nothing but hurt the businesses that are here in Florida, and it hurts an industry that we are wanting to move to the state of Florida.”

Because of federal ethanol mandates, the proposal may be mostly symbolic.

Natural gas

A measure awaiting Gov. Scott’s pen could increase the number of natural gas vehicles on the road.

The bill (HB 579) exempts natural gas from fuel tax for five years, providing an incentive for companies to expand their fleet of natural gas vehicles.

Nuclear

The Legislature also passed a bill (SB 1472) that would set new benchmarks for electric utilities that want to collect controversial pre-construction fees for nuclear-power plants. But consumers shouldn’t expect refunds when plans are halted, as was the initial desire of Tampa Bay area legislators when they first proposed the bill.

The Senate reluctantly, but unanimously, accepted the House proposal to remove the possibility of refunds for uncompleted projects from the bill that alters a 2006 law aimed at encouraging more nuclear power. 

Legislators claim the new benchmarks, which include additional Florida Public Service Commission reviews, will save customers in the long run as the utilities have to continually justify costs to impose and maintain any pre-construction fees.

Underground natural gas storage 

Natural gas companies will be able to pump reserves into once-mined and empty natural gas reservoirs under a proposal (HB 1083) that also had little opposition from lawmakers.

Already a common practice in other parts of the country, the measure sets up the permitting process within the Department of Environmental Protection for the underground storage of natural gas piped into the state. The reserves are expected to be located in southwest Florida and northwest Florida.

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda questioned the potential environmental impacts, particularly to the state’s water supply. 

Rep. Dane Eagle, the sponsor of the House bill, said the storage areas are far enough below any water. The bill prohibits a natural gas storage reservoir when it cannot be shown the gas has a chance to migrate into any drinking water supply.

Dyed fuel

Florida is expected to take a $1.9 million hit in the next fiscal year for its shrimp boaters and fishing interests.

Legislators agreed to a measure (HB 423) that lifts the 6 cent tax levied on the sale of dyed diesel fuel used for those in the commercial fishing and shrimping industries. 

The fuel is for construction and agriculture proposes and typically cheaper than standard retail fuels. The fuel is dyed red so the U.S. Department of Transportation can tell if it is being used for non-intended highway use.

The state Revenue Estimating Conference estimates the legislation will cut state revenue by $1.9 million in the next year, with the total growing to $2 million a year.

Fracking

Legislators pitched the creation of a registry (SB 1028) for companies planning to use hydraulic fracturing in drilling for gas and oil in Florida. 

The process, commonly called ‘fracking,’ injects water, sand and chemicals to create fractures in underground rock formations in order to release of natural gas and oil. 

The registry would include a list of the chemicals being used. However, companies could claim trade secrets were involved, which could keep many of the details from the public.

Proponents, in arguments that failed to sway lawmakers in either chamber, claimed the intent was to require any company undertaking the process to declare their intentions.

While no one is using the process in Florida, interest has been expressed to the state Department of Environmental Protection in employing the practice in Collier County. 

Critics, who claim the process can contaminate groundwater and cause other damage to the environment, argued the registry is a ploy to open the state to oil and gas “fracking” companies. 

Local Utilities

Legislators stayed away from a proposal (HB 733) by Rep. Debbie Mayfield that stepped into a dispute over utility issues in Indian River County and could have had statewide ramification.

The bill would have given counties the ability to take over utility services in unincorporated areas once existing municipal franchise agreements expire. The bill also would have required municipal utilities that sell water or wastewater services outside incorporated limits to be regulated by the Public Service Commission.

Drilling

Rep. Doug Broxson, R-Midway, withdrew his proposal (HB 431) to allow oil and natural gas exploration in the Blackwater River State Forest less than a month after he introduced the measure.

In February, after a petition reached his desk opposing the proposal, Broxson issued a release saying that the exploration would have only occurred “where drilling and petroleum exploration has already been underway.”

A similar proposal in 2012 got a little further through the committee process but never reached the floor in either chamber.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.