By Susan Glickman, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
It’s important to acknowledge progress when it happens. And it did. In Florida no less.
With the passage of flooding and sea-level rise resilience legislation, state legislative leaders have at long last acknowledged the harm local communities are seeing because of the climate crisis.
Senate President Wilton Simpson had this to say, “With 35 coastal counties containing the majority of our population and economy, our risks are only going to increase with time.”
He’s right about that.
Simpson, Speaker Chris Sprowls, Gov. Ron DeSantis – with near unanimous legislative support – deserve credit for putting the state on the path to adapt to the damage coming our way due to fossil fuel emissions.
The new law has the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) administering the Resilient Florida Grant Program to fund projects in a Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan. The state will spend up to $100 million annually for adaptation efforts by local governments, regional resilience entities, and water management districts. Also, they’ll assess risks and vulnerabilities every five years.
It’s progress but my enthusiasm is tempered because this legislation does nothing to get at the root of the problem, and more emissions means even greater sea rise. Adaptation is only a piece of the puzzle and you can’t adapt your way out of the climate crisis.
We must also dramatically reduce harmful greenhouse gas pollution that’s driving the flooding, sea-level rise, heavy rains, storm surges and intensified hurricanes.
Bill sponsor Sen. Ray Rodrigues stated, “Over time, the combined effects of sea level rise, storm surges and extreme rain events will have a significant impact. As lawmakers, we have a duty to responsibly plan for the future to address this emerging public safety issue.”
Doesn’t “duty to responsibly plan for the future” also mean preventing problems before they become a catastrophic threat?
Responsible planning should begin with the establishment of an upper limit of sea-level rise to determine what level the state can withstand. Then, we need an energy policy consistent with the emissions reductions required to keep us below this upper limit. It’s that simple.
Yet state officials continue to ignore the genesis of this increasingly expensive problem. As proof, energy bills moving in the legislature will lock in even more fossil gas infrastructure. That’s bad policy since 74% of Florida’s fuel mix already comes from out of state fossil gas – much of it fracked making it more polluting. Yet, not one word about the lack of fuel diversity from lawmakers.
Plus, the state sends $38 billion out of state annually to bring in fuels from elsewhere, according to the Energy Information Agency. Imagine the economic engine if we kept energy dollars local.
Florida utilities have among the worst energy efficiency programs for customers. According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, out of 52 utilities nationwide, Tampa Electric ranks 46th, Duke Energy Florida 48th and Florida Power & Light 51st.
And while there is more utility-scale solar in the works, we still get only 2.3% of our energy from solar power and only 18% of that is rooftop. In 2020, rooftop solar was less expensive than utility-scale solar, which requires transmission to customers, according to the FSEC Energy Research Center.
It’s stark that not one clean energy solution bill was heard in even a single committee this session – including bills to allow schools to save money with solar. This is not responsible planning for the future.
No doubt we must adapt to rising seas but adaptation has limits. We must also zero out carbon emissions from the power and transportation sectors. We need energy efficiency, solar, storage and electric transportation.
And we can do it in a way that creates jobs, economic opportunities, protects public health and reduces the cost of adaptation in the long run.
“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.