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Solar and biomass might beat wind

Florida, America's fourth most populated state, is expected to enact a law in coming months that will require utilities to source a rising percentage of renewable energy for power generation. Florida's Public Service Commission (PSC) is currently formulating the specifics of the state's first renewable energy standard (RES) after a green power law was passed at the end of the summer. The RES will be sent to the legislature for final approval, potentially in the first month or two of 2009.

In passing the law, Florida is heading down a road less travelled in the Southeast than the rest of America. The area is heavily reliant on coal generation and in Florida the wind resource is relatively poor. Even so, wind industry lawyer Thomas Wooley, from Florida law firm Hogan & Hartson, is optimistic. "It doesn't mean it doesn't work, it just might be more expensive," he says.

That is partly why the law was passed without specifying any set proportion of renewables. It will be up to the PSC to sort out what kind of regulation will work best in Florida. "My expectation is they will come out with something that's not too awful far from what the governor was looking for," says Woolsey. That was 20% renewables power by 2020. He estimates that Florida currently hovers around 3%, mostly from biomass. PSC staff recently suggested they prefer a lower threshold than that proposed by the governor, such as 10% by 2025.

But in some form or another, a green mandate will pass, which is a milestone for the Southeast, says Woolsey. "It will be an interesting test; probably the most proven renewable energy technology and the most cost effective one is not as likely to be successful here as other states." Woolsey expects solar and biomass to make up the bulk of energy generation under any new mandate, although he notes that wind companies do not necessarily share that view.

"I was going through the Miami airport the other day and I noted that Vestas has put up a fairly large display and I was thinking, do they know something that I don't?" says Woolsey. Vestas declines to discuss its Florida plans.

Florida's FPL Energy, however, a major customer of Vestas, seems to believe there is some potential. It is developing a six or eight turbine wind plant designed for the lower wind speeds in the state (Windpower Monthly, August 2007). Without having studied it, Woolsey says capacity factors for wind power in Florida are likely to be 40-60% less than those in a typically robust wind state in the US. And while he welcomes the possibility of a wind market in his home state, he notes that being "focused on wind project development in Florida would make me a pretty inactive lawyer."

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