TALLAHASSEE _ In a political squeeze because of a bill that includes tax breaks for renewable-energy production, Gov. Rick Scott late Friday allowed the controversial measure to become law without his signature.
Scott's decision could anger tea party members and some conservative groups that placed heavy pressure on him to veto the bill (HB 7117). But it effectively gives a victory to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and lawmakers who say the state needs to take steps toward developing renewable fuels.
It could also prevent a Southwest Florida company from expanding.
Algenol Biofuels Inc. wants to make ethanol from algae at its commercial farm in south Lee County, the first such enterprise in Florida. But at the state level, the concern is that the algae, if it escapes during a storm, for example, could pose an environmental threat.
The new law requires Algenol to obtain a special permit to grow the algae on more than 2 acres, unless the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services grants it an exemption to expand to the 30-plus acres for which the business originally planned. The company's goal is to produce 100,000 gallons of fuel-grade ethanol a year at its facility.
Algenol CEO Paul Woods couldn't be reached Saturday for comment on the law's passage.
In a letter explaining his move, Scott said he would allow the bill to become law in "deference" to Putnam's support for proposed tax credits. But Scott said he will analyze the results of the tax incentives and warned that he could push for a future repeal.
"In considering this analysis, it is my goal to ensure that any investment on behalf of Florida taxpayers in renewable energy would afford them the kind of return they would expect of their tax dollars,'' Scott wrote. "Absent clear documentation that the proposed tax credits have produced a sufficient return or provided significant cost savings for the state's taxpayers, I will request their repeal."
Putnam issued a statement thanking Scott for his consideration of the bill, which the commissioner described as a step toward a "smart, long-term energy policy."
"Rooted in common sense, this bill was developed to expand energy production in Florida and create much-needed jobs for Floridians,'' Putnam said.
But tea party members and conservative groups such as The Heartland Institute and Americans for Prosperity inundated Scott with calls to veto the bill, describing it as the "crony energy bill" that will raise costs for consumers.
"This energy bill is bad business, bad politics and bad for Florida's consumers,'' Slade O'Brien, state director of Americans for Prosperity, said earlier this week. "HB 7117 is the Legislature's way of boosting up less-competitive energy sources, at the increased cost to consumers and businesses."
The bill passed overwhelmingly in the closing days of the legislative session, with only two senators and two House members opposing the final version. Putnam and House sponsor Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, described it as a modest proposal, with Plakon publicly calling it a "baby step."
The 50-page bill deals with a number of energy-related issues, including the repeal of a 2008 law that could have led to what is known as a "renewable portfolio standard." Such a standard, which was never put in place, could have forced electric utilities to increase reliance on renewable energy sources.
But the series of tax incentives in the bill drew most of the attention. As an example, the state would provide up to $10 million a year in tax credits for costs associated with the production, distribution and storage of renewable fuels.
The measure could help industries such as agriculture, with homegrown crops potentially used in producing fuels.