In the lead-up to the November mid-terms it seemed like climate change would be the deciding factor in the Florida gubernatorial elections. The state’s incumbent governor, Rick Scott, has made the pages of Planet Experts many times for his climate skepticism, stubbornly sticking to the Republicans’ hallowed “I’m not a scientist” mantra even when the southern counties of his state urged him to consider funding new infrastructure to protect them against sea level rise. The threat of rising tides to cities like Miami Beach is so obvious that it led 60,000 evangelicals to petition Gov. Scott to buck his party’s anti-climate change platform and protect his state. But ultimately, Scott won re-election, despite his opponent’s strong financial backing from eco-billionaire Tom Steyer.
The frustration of many Floridians over their state’s intractable climate denial is palpable, to the point that South Miami actually voted to secede from the state in October. Thus far, the state government has taken Miami as seriously as it takes renewable energy.
Last week, state regulators voted to roll back 90 percent of Florida’s energy efficiency goals and allow its solar rebate program to expire. This suited three of the state’s four major energy utilities just fine, as they have been complaining that such extravagances as rooftop solar panels and more efficient water heaters cost them millions per year, forcing them to raise their rates for all consumers regardless of their environmental agendas.
One of the three major utilities is Duke Energy Florida, which has forced 1.7 million of its Florida customers to pay $3.2 billion in “nuclear advance fees,” or money for nuclear plants that haven’t come online yet. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the two nuclear projects customers are paying for have in fact already failed.
What’s sad – and absurd – is that the Sunshine State has the potential to be a solar dynamo, and yet it ranks well below Massachusetts and New Jersey for solar development. Critics say Florida’s utilities don’t want the renewable competition, and considering that solar has dropped from $60 per watt to about $2 per watt in 20 years, it’s not hard to see why.
Florida’s government may have to reconsider their decision, as the state will be compelled to reduce its emissions by 37 percent by 2030 under the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energies would significantly ease that transition, though it would necessitate a major infrastructure change. Presently, Florida is the fifth-most coal-dependent state in the U.S.A. and imported almost $50 billion worth of fossil fuels in 2012.
So for those curious why 29 states require utilities to comply with some sort of renewable energy portfolio, and about 20 states are making it easier for homes and commercial buildings to become more energy efficient, but Florida – sunny, ripe-for-solar Florida – remains apart from that progressive pack – you may have your answer.
“It’s completely inconsistent with what the other states are doing,” Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, told the The Tampa Tribune after the renewable rollback. “We believe there may have been laws broken today by not setting goals. We as an organization are going to try to find every outlet possible to continue to fight.”
“The state of Florida, its current leadership has allowed the utilities to paint us into a corner,” said Scott McIntyre, president of the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy and head of the Tampa-based solar company Solar Energy Management. “We were already sinking below water relative to the rest of the county, but now we are starting to drown.”