Scott approved nuclear power plants, but not much focus on other alternatives
Gov. Rick Scott promised while campaigning in 2010 to "work toward energy independence from foreign oil with the expansion of nuclear power, the use of alternative fuels and ensure that we can drill for oil safely."
To evaluate Scott's progress, we interviewed spokespersons for Scott and the state's Public Service Commission, Florida Power and Light and environmentalists. We also read several articles about nuclear plant projects in the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald.
We found that Scott took a key step toward this promise when he gave his approval to build nuclear generators in Miami-Dade County in May 2014.
Early in Scott's administration he named an energy adviser to produce a state energy plan. But that plan never materialized. Now on the campaign trail, Scott has tried to portray himself as a friend to the environment, but his new $1 billion environmental plan doesn't mention energy alternatives.
Overall, we found that Scott hasn't focused much on nuclear and alternative energy.
Turkey Point nuclear power plant
In May 2014, Scott and the Cabinet signed off on a plan by Florida Power and Light (FPL) to build two nuclear generators and 88 miles of transmission lines in Miami-Dade County. FPL hopes to get a license from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission by the end of 2017.
FPL plans to build two 1,100-megawatt nuclear generators, known as Turkey Point 6 and 7, at a cost of $24 billion, the Miami Herald reported.
Upon the plants' expected completion in 2022 and 2023, nuclear will comprise 16.2 percent of Florida's total generation, up from 9.8 percent in 2010, according to Cindy Muir, a spokeswoman for the Public Service Commission.
During Scott's tenure, FPL has also expanded the amount of electricity that existing nuclear units can produce at Turkey Point and in St. Lucie, FPL spokesman Greg Brostowicz said.
(While FPL moves forward with its plans for the nuclear plant in Miami-Dade, two other such projects failed on the west coast of Florida though neither one was Scott's fault. Last year, Duke Energy's sole nuclear power plant -- Crystal River 3 -- closed and Duke announced plans to cancel a two-reactor project in Levy County.)
Energy efficiency is the least expensive and least risky way to meet our energy needs, said clean energy lobbyist Susan Glickman. However, at a Public Service Commission hearing in July, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Florida Power & Light all proposed to gut conservation goals. The commission is expected to announce a decision in the fall.
The number of customer-owned renewable energy systems -- mostly solar -- has increased during Scott's tenure. There were 2,833 such facilities the year before Scott took office in 2010 -- and that rose to 6,697 in 2013, according to the Public Service Commission.
But overall, solar represents less than 1 percent of Florida's energy generation, and the state projects a tiny fraction of percentage growth over the next decade.
The state laid the groundwork for solar expansion under Scott's predecessor, Gov. Charlie Crist who is now the Democrat taking on Scott in November.
There are other factors for the increase in solar that have nothing to do with Scott, including that costs to install panels have dropped. Gainesville has been a leader in offering incentives to homeowners and business owners to install solar.
Solar "is miniscule," in Florida, said Frank Jackalone, Florida staff director of Sierra Club Florida. "Did it increase a little bit? yes. Did Gov. Scott have anything to do with it? No."
In addition to the nuclear plant approvals at Turkey Point, a spokesman for Scott pointed to a couple of pieces of legislation Scott signed in 2013 including House Bill 579. That bill provides rebates for up to 50 percent of the eligible costs of converting certain vehicles to natural gas-powered vehicles.
Overall, Scott took steps toward the nuclear power portion of his promise by approving new plants at Turkey Point. It's somewhat difficult to evaluate a project that is about a decade away and still has to get federal approvals. But if it does move forward as planned, it will increase the state's use of nuclear. There has been some growth in the use of solar but it still remains a very small portion of Florida's energy generation.
We rate this promise Compromise.
Florida Public Service Commission, Customer-owned renewable energy systems, 2008-13
Florida Reliability Coordinating Council, Regional and load resource plan, 2014
U.S. Energy Information Administration, Florida, March 27, 2014
Los Angeles Times, "Rules prevent solar panels in many states with abundant sunshine," Aug. 10, 2014
Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times, "Gov. Scott meets with scientists but remains silent on climate change," Aug. 19, 2014
Tampa Bay Times, "$54 million sought from Duke," Aug. 5, 2014
Miami Herald, "Governor and cabinet approve unpopular power lines and nuclear plant," May 13, 2014
Miami Herald Naked Politics blog, "Gov. Scott to meet with climate scientists Aug. 19," Aug. 8, 2014
Miami Herald Naked Politics blog, "Scott to weigh in on energy policy with less conservation, more renewables," June 23, 2011
PolitiFact Florida Scott-O-Meter, "Rick Scott's oil drilling talk has come up dry," Oct. 2, 2013
Interview, Cindy Muir, Florida Public Service Commission spokeswoman, Aug. 13, 2014
Interview, Susan Glickman, clean energy lobbyist, July 11, 2014
Interview, Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida staff director, Aug. 11, 2014
Interview, Greg Brostowicz, FPL spokesman, Aug. 8, 2014
Scott opposed bill designed to boost renewable fuels
Rick Scott promised during his campaign to work toward independence from foreign oil.
Through expansion of nuclear power, the use of alternative fuels and pursuit of safe oil drilling, campaign spokesman Joe Kildea said in September 2010.
We're separately tracking Scott's promise to explore expansion of domestic drilling in a safe, environmentally sound way, so this update will focus on nuclear power and alternative fuels.
How might the governor take action?
In Florida, the five-member Public Service Commission regulates investor-owned utilities based on state law set by the Legislature and governor. The governor appoints commissioners, who are confirmed by the Senate. Scott chose to reappoint four commissioners in his first year: Art Graham, Ronald Brise, Eduardo Balbis and Julie Brown.
A governor might also lead through legislative proposals. But Scott won't be proposing an energy bill for the 2012 legislative session, according to the Florida Current.
Here's how the state's energy production looks right now, according to the PSC: It's generated primarily by natural gas, followed by coal and nuclear. Other sources make up just 15 percent of the state's energy generation. By 2019, those three big categories are expected to gobble up an even greater portion of the pie, with more than 50 percent of our energy from natural gas, more than 26 percent from coal and more than 15 percent from nuclear.
Has the governor worked to expand nuclear power and that tiny category, "other"?
He did reappoint a commissioner, Graham, who trumpets an expanded role for nuclear power. But Graham, who chairs the commission, also said he's more interested in cheap energy based on fossil fuels than in alternative energy. That's potential help for half of Scott's promise, but not the other half.
Meanwhile, the governor has also:
• Opposed a bill that would have let investor-owned utilities charge ratepayers up to an additional 2 percent of their annual revenue for renewable energy. It would have allowed utilities to raise customer bills to cover investments in renewable energy. It failed for a third straight legislative session in April 2011.
• Named an energy adviser, Mary Bane, to produce a state energy plan. It was projected to be done by late summer 2011, but such a policy is still in the works, according to the Governor's Office. "Gov. Scott feels a comprehensive energy policy for Florida is something that is needed for the state," spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.
So it's not yet clear what action Scott plans in support of nuclear power and alternative fuels.
"He has been very non-forthcoming on any energy-related policy," said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida, told PolitiFact Florida for an update on Scott's promise to explore expansion of oil drilling. "It's like the disappearing energy policy."
Susan Glickman, a long-time clean energy lobbyist in Tallahassee, said Scott "has really not done anything to build more nuclear power plants."
And alternative fuels?
"He has done zero in that regard," she said.
We asked his Governor's Office for an update on this promise, and got this written response: "This promise is In the Works. Gov. Scott believes a clear, strategic energy policy is needed to guide our decisions for a secure and sustainable energy future."
Given the lack of detail, we don't agree with the Governor's Office's self-assessment that his promise is In the Works.
Since Scott opposed one bill designed to boost renewable fuels, and we're still waiting on his state energy plan, this promise for now rates Stalled.
Email interview with Jackie Schutz, spokeswoman for Governor's Office, Dec. 9-19, 2011
Gov. Rick Scott's Communications Office, written responses to PolitiFact's questions about the Scott-O-Meter, Dec. 28, 2011
Interview with Susan Glickman, clean energy lobbyist, Dec. 16, 2011
Email interview with Scott Hempling, Georgetown law professor, former executive director of the National Regulatory Research Institute, Dec. 17, 2011
PolitiFact Florida Scott-O-Meter, "Not much has happened on safe oil drilling promise," Dec. 29, 2011
Florida Public Service Commission, "Facts & Figures of the Florida Utility Industry," March 2011
Florida Public Service Commission, "Florida Public Service Commissioner History," accessed Dec. 16, 2011
Public Utility Research Center, University of Florida, "Addressing the Level of Florida's Electricity Prices," Sept. 28, 2011
St. Petersburg Times' Venture blog, "At PSC, chairman Graham's mantra for governing energy world is keep it cheap, keep it basic," Aug. 3, 2011
St. Petersburg Times, "PSC chairman: Nuclear remains big part of state's energy future," Aug. 3, 2011
Florida Current, "2012 Session Outlook: Utilities and Energy," Dec. 28, 2011
Miami Herald's Naked Politics blog, "Renewables bill dies of its own weight -- for the third consecutive year," April 26, 2011
Miami Herald's Naked Politics blog, "Scott to weigh in on energy policy with less conservation, more renewables," June 23, 2011