Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam doesn't expect a harsh backlash from the renewable-energy industry after Gov. Rick Scott approved a bill that abolishes a state law requiring most gasoline to include nearly 10 percent ethanol.
Scott signed the bill (HB 4001) late Friday to repeal the 2008 Renewable Fuel Standard Act, and groups backing the U.S. ethanol industry quickly blasted the state action.
The signing also caused the head of a biofuel company in Fort Myers to question his comfort level with building a commercial facility in Florida.
But Putnam said that because of federal ethanol mandates the state action is mostly symbolic and there will be no change at most pumps in Florida.
"When Florida passed a state mandate, it didn't change the makeup of the fuel blends inside the state because there was already a federal mandate," Putnam said. "Repealing it will not change the makeup of fuel blends in the state either."
Also, he doesn't expect a long-term negative reaction, noting that his opposition to repeal changed as he saw the energy industry alter its focus in the past year.
"A year ago, my concern was we would be sending a message to potential investors in the state that Florida was no longer concerned about working on biofuel-related projects," Putnam told reporters on Monday at the Capitol. "Since then, there have been several high-profile private sector decisions to walk away from biofuel investments in the state of Florida, not because of anything related to Florida, because the sector itself, the private capital has gravitated to fracking and natural gas development."
Last October, BP backed off plans to build a $300 million cellulosic ethanol plant in Highlands County, instead deciding to focus its biofuel efforts on research, development and licensing.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, has said the repeal effort was able to advance this year after Putnam dropped his opposition.
The 2008 law was pushed as a means to create new technology jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce dependence on foreign oil.
In signing the 2013 legislation, Scott wrote that he was trying to reduce regulatory burdens while calling the state law "duplicative" of the Federal Renewable Fuel Standard.
Biofuel industry representatives said Florida should be concerned about the message that comes with the repeal.
Brent Erickson, executive vice president of Biotechnology Industry Organizations industrial and environmental section, said the repeal sends a "chilling message" that biofuel and biotech is "unwelcome" in Florida.
"Florida has been on the cutting edge in research and development of cellulosic and algae biofuels, as well as new crops for advanced biofuels, such as energy cane," Erickson said in a release. "Undermining the states market for biofuels will discourage further development within the state, potentially driving out innovation, investment and jobs."
BIO is a global advocate for biotechnology companies and academic institutions.
The Renewable Fuels Association, a trade association for the U.S. ethanol industry, along with Growth Energy, which represents producers and supporters of ethanol, called the 2013 legislation a "lost opportunity for Florida."
"This toothless legislation might win favor with big oil supporters, but it has closed the door on job creation by the biofuels industry and sent investors packing for more visionary states," Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen and Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis stated in a joint release.
After the bill was signed, Paul Woods, CEO of Fort Myers-based Algenol Inc., told the Fort Myers News-Press that the repeal could push his company to build its first commercial facility, an estimated $400 million investment, in another state.
Ill be looking elsewhere for a site to employ several thousand people, Woods, who lobbied against the bill, told the News-Press.
Putnam said the state remains committed to a diverse array of energy options, but time is needed for the field of options to grow.
"Given that we are a state with a year-round growing season, the technology and biofuels, eventually, will give Florida a competitive advantage in that space," Putnam said.