Shining a Light on Florida's Outdated Energy Strategy

America lags behind other countries—and Florida lags behind other states, in getting real about energy efficiency programs.

Vintage Florida postcards: Good. Vintage Florida energy choices: Not so good.
Vintage Florida postcards: Good. Vintage Florida energy choices: Not so good. ()

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This op-ed was first published in the Tampa Tribune.

It’s hard to believe that in this age of technological innovation, Florida’s utilities are acting like it’s the 1950’s.

First, Duke Energy tried to charge ratepayers for a nuclear power plant it kept insisting would be worth the exorbitant half-billion price tag, but was never even built. When citizens and some prominent politicians balked at this ridiculousness, state regulators ordered Duke to refund $54 million of the money back to consumers.

Now, despite pledging to meet state goals for increased energy conservation and efficiency, Duke Energy, Florida Power and Light (FPL), Tampa Electric Company and Gulf Power are seeking permission from the state’s Public Service Commission to gut their conservation goals by more than 90 percent. As citizens and customers, we simply should not stand for this nonsense.

America lags behind other countries, and Florida lags behind other states, in getting real about energy efficiency programs that are proven to cut the need to build more and more expensive power plants.

Energy efficient power sources, especially solar power, are becoming cheaper and better. But the utilities act like it is 1950, and that we have to keep burning dirty coal and creating nuclear waste (even though there is nowhere to put the radioactive waste they’ve already generated).

This is embarrassing.

State law requires the Public Service Commission to set goals to “reduce rates of electrical consumption” in Florida, and also to increase the use of rooftop solar systems around the state. Instead, the commission just gave Duke Power the go-ahead to build another power plant—a $1.5 billion natural gas burner in Citrus County.

Duke Power will now charge ratepayers billions to build that plant, which will burn more energy, which will then make more money for Duke. This is a bad decision at a time when we could be cutting back on power generation and using energy more efficiently.

This summer, FPL abruptly yanked its rebate program that offered $1,000 back to customers who installed solar water heaters. The energy efficiency programs that the utilities actually do offer unfairly apply to high-end homeowners. The majority of low-income people, who are most in need of a break on their monthly power bills, don’t get affordable incentives to make their homes more energy efficient.

The problem is that the utilities don’t have an interest in lowering energy consumption, because building new power plants is how they make money. It’s like asking gas station owners to develop electric cars.

As citizens, we need to let Gov. Rick Scott and the Public Service Commission know that we want them to require utilities to do real efficiency measures (just like Duke Power does in other states), increase programs to help people and businesses install rooftop solar systems, and revise our energy efficiency programs so that they offer affordable options for everyone.

David Guest worked at Earthjustice from 1990 to 2016, as the managing attorney of the Florida regional office. His countless legal battles were, in one way or another, all about water. His motivation to protect Florida’s water came from years of running boats in the state’s rivers and lakes, which convinced him that waterways are many people’s spiritual connection to nature.

The Florida regional office wields the power of the law to protect our waterways and biodiversity, promote a just and reliable transition to clean energy, and defend communities disproportionately burdened by pollution.