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Robert Stonerock: ’Clean’ energy isn’t ’renewable’ energy

Robert F. Stonerock
My View

Florida is poised to join the 28 states that have adopted a Renewable Energy Portfolio and are becoming leaders in the green job revolution. Achieving a strong renewables target will expand Florida’s economic base — spurring an in-state renewables industry that keeps energy-related jobs and dollars in our state while attracting the private investments now flowing to states with favorable renewables policies.

Gov. Charlie Crist, the Public Service Commission, and Florida’s Legislature are to be commended for moving forward.

Unfortunately, the Florida’s Legislature is contemplating a name change. Instead of a Renewable Energy Portfolio, Florida would have a "Clean" Energy Portfolio.

What’s in a name? Well, this new name is geared toward making nuclear, so-called "clean" coal, plus plastics and the other nonrenewable materials in landfill waste part of the mix of technologies that are eligible to meet our state’s energy policy target.

It’s good that these three nonrenewable technologies emit less carbon than conventional coal, but reduced carbon is not the same as clean. Mining, transporting, processing, scrubbing, and storing the waste of coal remains thoroughly filthy and unhealthy — and underground sequestration of carbon poses significant risks to Florida’s drinking-water supplies.

Of course, nuclear waste is the ultimate hazardous material that remains so for a hundred thousand years or more and is a multi-level security threat.

And the plastic in landfill waste is a nonrenewable oil product that is toxic throughout its life cycle. When we burn such plastic in conventional "waste-to-energy" power plants rather than recycle it, we cause air pollution that harms human health and hampers development of robust recycling markets.

In his novel "1984," George Orwell brought to light the practice of calling things the opposite of what they are repeatedly to the point where society comes to accept the falsehood. Calling these three nonrenewable energy technologies "clean" is major Orwellian. Greenwashing is another term for it.

Let’s put Floridians to work building our economy by developing this state’s native renewable energy supplies. The Legislature needs to seize this opportunity by allowing the Renewable Portfolio Standard to remain at 20 percent and to contain only renewable sources (i.e., energy from the sun, wind, plants, water and geothermal). Whatever place nuclear, coal, and landfill waste are to have in Florida’s energy future, governmental and business leaders should refrain from greenwashing, and Florida should not define nonrenewable technologies as "clean" when they largely remain just the opposite.

Additional Facts

Robert F. Stonerock Jr., M.D., is president of the Florida Renewable Energy Association. He lives in Orlando. Contact him at