A Really Bad Idea: Drill Offshore and Use Revenues for Solar in Florida

A surprise headline from NY Times Green Inc. Blog earlier this week:

"Florida Solar Group Backs Offshore Drilling"

Say what? 

In a release last week, the Florida branch of the Solar Energy Industries Association [FL SEIA] announced its support for drilling off the state's coast - in order to create a revenue stream to support solar energy.

If offshore drilling goes forward, "we want to be able to have a seat at the table, to direct those funds or at least a portion of those funds to a clean energy source," Bruce Kershner, executive director of the group, said in a telephone interview.

I say to Mr. Kershner, while we empathize with your frustration on the apparent lack of funding for solar development in the Sunshine State, this particular idea - trading dirty, polluting offshore drilling revenue for the benefit of developing solar energy - is unacceptable. 

On Offshore Drilling...

Economically, offshore drilling comes with perilous risk to Florida's most popular tourist attraction and best economic generator - the Sunshine State's thousands of miles of coastline and beaches.  $62 billion dollars and nearly one million Florida jobs are generated through the tourism industry along the coastline and beaches.  According to the statement issued by FL SEIA,

Florida economists Fishkind & Associates project enabling offshore energy exploration in Florida waters could produce public revenues of between $2.3 billion and $12 billion a year.

That fact alone should speak volumes to Florida policy makers.  Does it really make sense to generate a few more billion from offshore drilling revenue and risk throwing away tens of billions of dollars from Florida's well-established tourism industry? 

Beyond tourism versus drilling, let's expand the discussion to also shed light on the environmental risks this would bring to Florida's marine coastal ecology and endangered and threatened wildlife.  In perhaps the ultimate act of twisted fates, offshore drilling and the resulting carbon emissions that will ensue after combusting the oil for energy will contribute to the already-underway trend of the acidification of our oceans (carbonic acid is increased as the world's oceans equilibrate with the massive build up of atmospheric carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion).  Coral reefs (some 6,000 coral reefs exist in the warm shallow waters in Southern Florida) are already showing signs of stress from ocean acidification, which is accelerating as a result of higher carbon and other acid-forming compounds from the burning fossil fuels.

On Solar...

Our clean energy policy development work at NRDC seeks to accelerate the scale up of technologies that can cost-effectively tap our vast potential of truly clean sources of renewable energy.  We think that solar is among the most promising of renewable energy technologies that will greatly contribute to our [must-have very soon, or else...] clean energy future.  And we do understand Mr. Kershner's frustration that Florida leadership can and should do a lot more to secure its own clean energy future.  Among a number of clean energy and environmental advocacy organizations, I too, was engaged in the largely uphill battle to push for a Florida Renewable Portfolio Standard that ultimately failed to pass muster in the Florida legislature.

A Better Deal

Mr. Kershner, I recommend you rescind your statement made last week and work with us to get more solar and other renewable energy developed in Florida the right way. 

The Plan

(1) Let's make another go at the FL RPS.  RPS's have worked great to mandate the cost-effective development renewables in 29 other U.S. states (plus Washington, D.C.).  True leaders in Florida who care about Florida's economic and environmental future will step up to join us. 

(2) Let's make Florida more energy efficient and reinvest a portion of the savings toward renewables.  Florida ranks second and third in its potential to significantly improve its energy productivity and reduce carbon emissions, respectively - all at a profitMy colleagues and NRDC partner organizations are hard at work in Florida, making sure that Florida utilities and regulators make the right decision to profit from the enormous potential of energy efficiency available throughout the State.