On Wednesday, over 150 Florida residents gathered outside the St. Petersburg office of Duke Energy to communicate a single message: Floridians want solar energy, and they want it now.
Duke Energy is the largest electric power holding company in the United States, but thus far it has refused to support solar power in the Sunshine State. This has drawn the ire of progressive, environmental and conservation groups, who want to know why they have to pay for nonexistent nuclear plants against their will but cannot pay for solar-based energy they actually want.
Yes, that’s right, Florida residents are paying what is known as a “nuclear advance fee,” which allows utilities like Duke Energy to charge their customers for new nuclear plants before they actually produce power. Thus far, Duke has collected $3.2 billion from its 1.7 million Florida customers for two failed nuclear projects. According to the Tampa Bay Times, “Neither project will provide a kilowatt of electricity for the billions customers are paying.”
Then there’s the fact that Florida (again, the “Sunshine State”) could potentially generate the third-highest amount of solar in the country yet only ranks 18th in solar installation, according to WLRN.
Stephen Smith, the executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, told ThinkProgress that this is partly because Florida has no renewable portfolio standard, a policy that requires a percentage of a state’s energy to come from renewable sources – something that has worked very well in California, Massachusetts and North Carolina (all three rank among the nation’s top ten most solar-powered states).
Smith puts the blame on Governor Rick Scott, whose “administration has done nothing to support solar power. The public service commission under his watch has been very hostile and critical of solar power.”
Scott’s anti-renewable stance is matched by an ambiguous understanding of climate change, and Florida scientists have repeatedly offered to enlighten him. Scott’s inability to break from his party’s position to provide climate change protection to sinking southern Florida has prompted the region to call for secession and spurred the state’s evangelicals to implore him to change his mind.
Scott’s gubernatorial rival, Charlie Crist, has campaigned on a climate action platform, even releasing a solar proposal that includes greenlighting power purchase agreements. Political analysts are saying that this year climate change could decide Florida’s governorship.