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Friday, Sep 22, 2017
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Florida's energy future should include nuclear

Florida's energy future is a topic of much discussion these days, and rightfully so. Energy is not simply a discussion around what source of electricity — natural gas, wind, solar, nuclear, coal, etc. — we use to turn on the lights, it goes deeper than that. It's an industry that directly impacts our economy and employment opportunities for local residents. And the solution that is best for Floridians is a balanced, all-of-the-above approach, including nuclear energy as a vital source of our electricity supply rather than betting on one source. To ensure the Hispanic community has a voice in this debate, the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (FSHCC) launched Balance Energy Florida (BEF), a coalition of consumers, industry, Hispanic-owned businesses and Florida families that seek to ensure a balanced energy portfolio in Florida. FSHCC believes a balanced fuel mix that is reliable, affordable, safe and environmentally sound is paramount, and to truly have a balanced mix that is reliable, affordable, safe, and environmentally sound, we as a state — and more broadly, as a country — must not move away from nuclear energy. Florida's economic growth is strongly tied to the energy industry, with direct and indirect employment and an economic windfall that comes with supporting a large nuclear energy facility. One nuclear reactor creates 400 to 700 jobs for regular operation, and construction of a new reactor creates more than double that — 1,400 to 1,800 high-paying jobs — during peak construction.
With the rate of growth within the energy industry and the expected turnover — nearly half of the nuclear workforce is either eligible for retirement or anticipated to move on through natural turnover by 2016 — these jobs are real. Hispanic community and business advocates need to raise greater awareness about the impact that this can have on the energy sector across the board and, more specifically, the impact for Florida's economic development potential. Hispanics are the fastest-growing population in the country. To capitalize on the promising opportunities coming down the pipeline, the time is now for preparing Hispanic students for the energy careers of the future. This means supporting efforts to implement energy industry-relevant education and training at the secondary and post-secondary levels, as well as efforts to create greater awareness about all that the energy industry has to offer through efforts such as the Balance Energy Florida effort and the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy), of which I am a member. When we consider Florida's future workforce needs, the energy industry is and continues to offer a healthy pipeline for future employment opportunities. Developing solutions to meet the current and future workforce needs of the state's energy sector is incredibly important. As a result of these jobs our local economy is the real winner. Hispanics lead the pack when it comes to small business ownership. Over the last decade, Hispanic-owned businesses have experienced a steady growth rate of more than twice that of the national average. When you consider the supply chain and support system for a nuclear facility, Hispanic-owned businesses are well positioned to effectively compete in high-growth industries such as the energy sector. Nuclear energy is among the cleanest energy sources available. It has the lowest impact on the environment of any energy source out there with virtually a zero greenhouse gas emission rating. As part of a balanced approach to providing electricity, nuclear is one option that can help protect our air, land, water and wildlife, while also contributing to the state's economic and employment outlook for years and generations to come.

Julio Fuentes is president of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
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