Florida is in the minority of states that have yet to pass a Renewable Portfolio Standard to encourage clean energy growth

Florida has one of the highest rates of home electricity consumption in the country, due in no small part to the need for air conditioning. But the source of Florida’s heat is also its most promising source of renewable energy -- sunshine. Florida's climate also bodes well for fast-growing energy crops such as sugarcane and sweet sorghum. With 47,500 farms, Florida could become an important producer of biofuels.[1] Despite this potential, Florida is now in the minority of states that have yet to pass a Renewable Portfolio Standard, which would encourage the growth of clean energy by requiring utilities to generate a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources.

The renewables map shows current and future Florida facilities generating energy from wind, biomass, solar power and biogas. In addition to land-based renewable energy, the Florida Straits Current and Gulf Stream Current -- located just a few miles offshore along the southern and eastern coastline -- hold the potential to invite development of near-shore tidal- and wave-energy capture facilities.[2]

Solar Energy

green leaves

In the 1930s, most new homes in South Florida came equipped with solar water heaters

It doesn't take much imagination to see great opportunities for solar energy in Florida. Even in the 1930s, most new homes built in South Florida came equipped with their own solar water heaters.[3] A 2004 study of small residential solar arrays by the Florida Solar Energy Center found that Florida has 85 percent of the maximum solar energy potential of any place in the country, at 7.2 kilowatt-hours per day.[4]

Florida Power & Light (FPL), a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, Inc., launched 3 solar power plants in 2009 and 2010, making Florida the second largest supplier of utility-scale solar power in the country. In their lifetimes, these plants will prevent the emission of more than 3.5 million tons of greenhouse gases -- equivalent to removing 25,000 cars from our roads each year.[5] The Martin Next Generation Solar Plant, near Indiantown, Florida, is the first hybrid solar plant in the world. It’s connected to a conventional power plant and directly offsets the burning of fossil fuels. The Martin plant is expected to cut Florida’s oil consumption by 600,000 barrels, and save customers $178 million in fuel costs over its lifetime.[6]

Launched by Governor Jeb Bush in 1999, Florida's Front Porch program has provided 150 solar water heaters to residents of 20 low-income communities to relieve the burden of energy costs -- the first program of its kind in the country.[7] SunSmart Schools, a public-private partnership, installed solar electric systems in about 50 public schools throughout the state, with excess power flowing back to the local grid. An additional 90 schools that also serve as hurricane protection centers will receive a solar electric emergency power system.[8] And SunBuilt, a partnership of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Home Builders Association and Florida Solar Energy Research and Education Foundation, offers rebate checks to builders who install solar hot-water heaters in new homes.[9]

Biomass Energy and Cellulosic Ethanol

sugar cane

Florida is making significant investments in the research and development of biofuels, especially in the emerging science of making clean fuels from algae.[10] The State Energy Office recently became part of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, suggesting an enhanced role for the state’s Farm to Fuel program.

Corn is expensive to grow in Florida, so the University of Florida is taking the lead in biomass research that focuses primarily on sugarcane and sweet sorghum.[11] Sugarcane is Florida's third-largest crop economically, behind only nursery and citrus.[12]

A public-private consortium that includes the Common Purpose Institute, University of Florida, Florida Energy Office and several energy companies is experimenting with fast-growing trees as a renewable fuel source for electric utilities. Building on years of research by the University of Florida and Shell Energy, the project aims to cultivate "super trees" that can grow 20 feet a year, with an annual yield of 32 green tons and 16 dry tons of biomass per acre.[13]

Plans are in the works for a wood waste biomass power plant in Port St. Joe. The proposed 55 megawatt plant is under contract to sell most of its electricity to Progress Energy.

Wind Energy

Florida has relatively light winds, so large commercial wind farms are not currently viable. As turbine technology advances, small-scale wind installations might make sense for homeowners or small businesses in windy areas, and future developments might also make offshore wind farms more feasible.

Biogas Energy


Every year, Florida livestock emit 19,000 tons of methane that could generate clean electricity

Methane emissions account for 7 percent of Florida's greenhouse-gas emissions[14] and present a clear opportunity: every year, Florida livestock emit 19,000 tons of methane that could be captured to generate clean electricity. University of Florida specialists have found that covered lagoons and fixed-film digesters are best suited to most Florida farms.[15] The state currently has two operating anaerobic digesters, including a fixed-film facility at the University of Florida's Dairy Research Unit in Hague. Fed by 500 dairy cows,[16] the digester generates 237,000 kilowatt-hours of power -- enough to power about 20 homes for a year -- and its patented process reduces odors, flies and pathogens by as much as 95 percent from conventional waste-management techniques.[17]

Renewable Energy Meets Wildland and Wildlife Conservation

Certain sensitive lands -- such as parks, monuments and wildlife conservation areas -- and ecologically sensitive marine areas are not appropriate for energy development. In some of these places, energy development is prohibited or limited by law or policy, and in others it would be highly controversial. NRDC does not endorse locating energy facilities or transmission lines in such areas. Siting decisions must always be made extremely carefully, with impacts mitigated and operations conducted in an environmentally responsible manner.

For more information on the intersection between clean energy development and wildland and wildlife conservation in the American West, including locations of parks, wildlife refuges and other conservation areas, see this Google Earth-based feature.


Economic Incentives for Renewable Energy Projects in Florida

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency lists federal, state, utility and local government incentives for renewable energy projects in Florida.

Biomass Energy and Cellulosic Ethanol

Florida has a number of incentives for the use of alternative fuels, the purchase of an alternative-fuel vehicle and the construction or purchase of an alternative-fuel refueling station or equipment. See the Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center at the U.S. Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Solar Energy

The Florida Solar Energy Center outlines federal tax incentives for homeowners, business owners and home builders who install solar-energy systems. Several Florida cities, including Tallahassee, Gainesville and Orlando, have local incentive programs, including loans and rebates, for solar-energy systems and other green measures.

Solar energy systems are permanently exempt from Florida sales tax.

Progress Energy offers a rebate to residential customers who install a solar water heater.

Through SunBuilt, home builders who install solar hot-water heaters in new homes can apply for a rebate of $500 for each home and, with additional commitment, a free installed model heater for a model home.

Lakeland Electric is the first utility in the nation to offer solar-heated hot water to residential customers on a pay-as-you-go basis. The company installs its own solar water heaters in customers' homes.

The website of the Florida Renewable Energy Association has more information on solar electric and thermal systems and links to local resources, including an annual Solar Tour in central Florida.

Biogas Energy

The EPA's AgSTAR program has a comprehensive handbook on developing biogas technology. The site includes FarmWare, a free decision-making software package that can help you assess the feasibility of biogas on your farm.

The AgMRC (Agricultural Marketing Resources Center) has a rich list of links and resources on biodigestion.

The Northwest CHP (Combined Heat and Power) Application Center has a fact sheet that helps you ask all the right questions about installing a biodigester on your farm.

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