By Trenise Bryant and Francois J. Alexandre
At a time when many Floridians are struggling with high electric bills and many others facing disconnections, saving energy is essential.
In other states, electric utilities help their customers by offering free or low-cost energy efficiency programs that lower energy bills for homes and businesses and improve safety and comfort.
In Florida, these utility-run programs aren’t delivering the same kind of results we see in other states. This is due to weak goals and out-of-step policies from state regulators.
The Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) has recently proposed revisiting these rules, representing a crucial opportunity to reform utility energy efficiency policy in the state, helping utility customers in this critical time. But it won’t happen unless Floridians speak up in support of real progress.
In a national report published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) last year, Florida’s three largest investor-owned electric utilities (Tampa Electric, Duke Florida and Florida Power & Light) were among the worst performers nationwide, ranking at 46th, 48th, and 51st out of the 52 utilities in terms of energy efficiency program options and savings.
Other utilities in the state also show room for improvement, compared with our neighbors in Georgia and North Carolina.
Outdated regulatory rules are depriving Floridians of energy efficiency measures that could reduce their bills. Without targeted utility-led programs, many residents in multifamily buildings and businesses that are struggling during a recession won’t have the time, the budgets or the knowledge to access and implement energy efficiency measures on their own.
When utilities aren’t delivering on their promises, it hurts low-income families the most. Another report from ACEEE found that the average low-income household in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale and Tampa-St. Petersburg metropolitan areas spends more than twice as much of their monthly income on energy bills compared with non-low-income households. Black and Hispanic households are particularly likely to struggle with high bills.
In addition to providing energy savings on customers’ bills, energy efficiency is the largest source of jobs in Florida’s energy sector. Before the pandemic, more than 120,000 Floridians worked in the sector, performing vital work such as HVAC installation and efficient building contracting.
There are more than 15,000 Florida businesses in the energy efficiency sector, and the vast majority are small businesses with fewer than 100 employees. This industry has suffered during the COVID-19 recession, losing more than 18,000 jobs in 2020. Investment by utilities could create needed local jobs.
Florida regulators have an opportunity now – in the new rulemaking – to revamp the state’s lagging efficiency programs by reforming weak policies that are holding back progress.
These policies include an outdated cost-effectiveness test for energy efficiency, and a policy that restricts Florida utilities from providing their customers with measures that pay for themselves in less than two years.
Florida hasn’t changed its policies in over 30 years, while other states have kept up with new technology and innovation in energy efficiency. It’s time for Florida to listen to its residents and businesses and modernize its approach to saving energy.
Finally, the PSC can target energy savings to customers that are most in need. Although state law requires utilities to offer some income-based programs, there is no spending or savings target for these groups. This is a real shame when so many are suffering.
Implementing common-sense goals for customers in need and broadening the options utilities can offer to their customers will help bring Florida back in step with current practices and policies for utility energy efficiency and will reduce costs for households and businesses.
This regulatory proceeding is open for comments from the public throughout the process over the next few months. To learn more about energy efficiency opportunities in Florida, and to sign a letter to PSC commissioners urging them to support better policies, visit https://energysmartfl.com/.
Trenise Bryant, is Steering Committee Co-Chair of the Miami Climate Alliance, Co-Founder of the Florida Housing Justice Alliance and Board Chair of Miami Workers Center. Francois J. Alexandre formed Konscious Kontractors to combat climate gentrification by beautifying South Florida communities through landscaping design and renovation of properties while providing at-risk youths with job-training skills. For more information, visit https://energysmartfl.com/.
“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.