By Zelalem Adefris, Catalyst Miami
There is nothing like being quarantined in your home for weeks on end to remind you of the importance of comfort.
As we set up makeshift schools and offices in the living room, scrub and sanitize our surfaces, and carve out corners of sanctuary, we all have an increased understanding of what it means to have a healthy home. Nowadays, with record-breaking heat in South Florida, we know that affordable energy is key.
Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, many in our community are losing wages and spending more time at home. That makes it harder to keep up with utility bills.
Power shut-offs cause immense hardship in the best of times, but they can have catastrophic consequences now. As we know from our hurricane history, lack of electricity can mean life or death for some of our most vulnerable populations.
In addition, a lack of air conditioning increases mold growth and extreme indoor heat exposure, exacerbating respiratory diseases and leading to more severe Covid-19 symptoms.
That is why many groups and elected leaders across the state have urged utilities to immediately suspend power disconnections, reconnect households that were disconnected before the state of emergency was declared, and waive late fees and fines for residential customers. The groups have asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to order that all energy utilities in Florida comply with those objectives.
Fortunately, many utilities have begun to address these issues. However, these efforts are a Band-Aid on decades of disinvestment that has undermined their most vulnerable, low-income customers.
Energy efficiency measures, like attic insulation or tuning up an A/C system, can help families significantly cut energy waste and save money on bills. This is particularly helpful for those residing in older homes, which are often poorly insulated, have outdated appliances, and use less efficient cooling systems.
They are also the quickest, cleanest, and most cost-effective way to meet our energy needs and tackle climate change. Yet, some of the state’s biggest power companies, including Florida Power & Light (FPL), disingenuously argue that energy efficiency programs hurt low-income families. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Florida utilities have historically used deceptive tactics to get their way. The Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) — which sets energy efficiency goals every five years — slashed goals by 90% after FPL misled the Florida NAACP into submitting deceitful talking points used in the 2014 proceedings, according to the New York Times.
In 2019, many of the state’s utilities proposed walking away entirely from helping customers make their homes more efficient by proposing goals of zero or near zero for a 10-year period. Fortunately, after a public outcry, the PSC rejected the proposals. Still, when ranked nationally, Florida is almost last for utility investments in energy efficiency.
The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted that no one should have to choose between paying electricity bills or buying food and medicine. Now is the time to reset the discussion on investing in energy efficiency programs, which save fuel and money. It’s for the good of our region. Reducing our collective fuel use will lessen the need for more power plants, protecting our environment and saving consumers money.
As temperatures rise and hurricane season approaches, Floridians will be using more power while isolating at home. Given the record-breaking profits that Florida’s utilities have enjoyed over the years, now is the time for meaningful investment in an equitable renewable energy future that provides more jobs, energy independence, and resilience benefits for Floridians.
An additional 135,000 jobs could be added to our workforce by enhancing energy efficiency policies. But first, the utilities have to lead, follow, or get out of the way.
Zelalem Adefris is the VP of Policy & Advocacy at Catalyst Miami and a climate justice advocate who lives in Miami Beach. She represents Miami as one of Grist Magazine’s Top 50 Fixers for 2020. Learn more at: www.connectedincrisis.orgEmail: firstname.lastname@example.org
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.