Green, Energy & Climate Conference May 16-17

By Chris Felker

The 2012 Florida Green, Energy & Climate Conference/Expo is rapidly approaching. The event is slated for May 16-17 at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.

This year, the conference is being staged under the umbrella of the new Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce, formed earlier this year when the Palms West and Greater Lake Worth chambers joined forces.

Anitra Harmon, who coordinated the conference for the Palms West chamber in previous years, remains in charge of assembling the lineup of panelists and guest speakers.

A big topic will be renewable energy, which is especially timely since these “green” forms of energy were the subject of the first comprehensive energy legislation to be considered in Florida in four years — House Bill 7117, passed by large margins in both chambers of the legislature.

The legislation sets aside $16 million for tax incentives to wind energy, solar power generation and biofuel companies. Gov. Rick Scott let it become law this month without his signature, promising that he would work for its repeal if it doesn’t deliver on its pledge to provide energy savings to Floridians.

HB 7117 will be one subject of the Green Conference’s annual legislative panel presentation, which this year is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. to noon on the expo’s second day, Thursday, May 17. It will be moderated again by Michael W. Sole, vice president of state governmental affairs for Florida Power & Light and a former secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Participants in that panel will include State Sen. Maria Sachs (D-District 30), State Rep. Lori Berman (D-District 86), State Sen. Chris Smith (D-District 29) and State Rep. Scott Plakon (R-District 37).

Other presentations at the exposition will answer the question “What’s New in Renewables?” and will include information on wind turbines, solar and ocean energy installations, waste-to-energy plants and the use of biofuels.

The conference is a great opportunity, Harmon said, for business professionals and government officials as well as the public to learn from and connect with decision-makers in sustainability-minded Florida organizations. Its focus is on education and networking that can advance individuals and businesses in today’s green-focused economy.

“This is the third year that we’ve done the 100 Cities initiative, and it has been growing each year. I think more and more people are becoming aware of it,” Harmon said.

That part of the exposition brings together officials in government and private business who are trying to advance efforts by municipalities and school districts — large users of gasoline and petroleum-based products — to reduce their carbon footprint on the environment.

“We have a great lineup of general sessions this year, including the emerging technologies, like wind and solar, and what FAU is doing down in Boca Raton at the Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center. They’re investigating harnessing the Gulf Stream for generating electricity,” Harmon said. “This is all going to be part of what we’re calling our Clean Energy Panel.”

It will kick off Wednesday morning, May 16, with the opening of the conference. “The Solid Waste Authority is going to bring us up to date on what they’re doing with their new waste-to-energy plant in western Palm Beach County,” she noted, with Executive Director Mark Hammond speaking.

“We’ve asked the mayor of Tallahassee [John Marks III] to come in and be on a panel to discuss ‘smart grid,’ the grid modernization. His city is the first in America to encompass — to combine — electric, natural gas and water services in a smart grid, and he’s going to be sharing the panel with Dr. Alex Domijan from the University of South Florida to discuss grid modernization.”

Harmon said that another particular focus of the conference will be on the conversion of municipal and school fleets to compressed natural gas, electricity or biofuel.

“One of the interesting sustainability trends that’s going on now is fleet conversion, and the importance of that, because fleets use up so much oil,” she said. “We’re going to discuss how you go about converting the fleet, whereby they can get into compressed natural gas, biofuels, electric, propane — the alternative fuels.”

And in one presentation that those interested in local efforts will find fascinating, an official of the company building Florida’s first wind energy “farm” will speak as part of the “Renewable Clean Energy” panel that kicks off the conference, from 8:30 to 10 a.m. May 16. Robin Saiz, director of project development for Wind Capital Group, will report on where the project stands at present.

“It’s the first commercial wind farm in Florida; we’re really excited about that,” Harmon said.

Another member of that same panel will be Susan Skemp, director of the Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Florida Atlantic University.

Other speakers will include West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio; Joseph Sanches, chief of facilities management for the Palm Beach County School District; Dale Brill, president of the Florida Chamber Foundation; and Dennis Gallon, president of Palm Beach State College.

The conference is presented by Florida City Gas, Florida Public Utilities and ESG (Energy Systems Group). Gold sponsors are Florida Power & Light, Wind Capital Group, Waste Management and the Palm Beach County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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