By Brooke Ward, Food & Water Watch
This year, Tampa Bay broke all the wrong records. From Tampa’s highest recorded temperature to Hillsborough County’s first-ever county-wide excessive heat warning, we’ve been exposed to more dangerous heat than ever before. Summer electricity use, much of which goes toward powering lifesaving cooling, similarly hit a record high in August. Also at a record high? The price we’re paying to keep cool.
It’s not just you: Since January 2019, the average Tampa Electric (TECO) bill has increased 62%. That means TECO customers are paying, on average, $744 more annually than we did nearly five years ago. Further rate increases will be discussed again as soon as January.
Rising temperatures and rising bills are a testament to what life looks like on a burning planet. Florida is caught in a self-defeating cycle of fossil fuel addiction and worsening climate chaos. The warmer it gets, the more energy we use, the more money we pay and the more fossil fuels we burn — driving climate change and worsening heat.
Right now, 75% of Florida’s electricity comes from fracked gas. In the Tampa Bay area, it’s only getting worse. By 2032, TECO has committed to 78.1% gas for electricity production. That’s deeply disturbing and reckless given that leading scientists have declared that fossil fuel exploration must cease globally by 2030 if we have a chance of maintaining a livable future.
Extreme heat and the price we’re paying to keep cool are proof that climate change is already here in Tampa Bay. It’s time we got serious about moving off the fossil fuels driving these intertwined crises. Community organizing is making it happen, pushing for bold climate plans that move off fossil fuels, boost energy efficiency and reduce energy costs.
Earlier this year, Tampa announced a climate plan that includes steps to phase out fossil fuels and transition the city to 100% clean and renewable energy. But fighting for our futures is going to take everyone — Tampa can’t operate in a silo. Countywide action is desperately needed to rein in our fossil fuel addiction.
While city after city have rolled out climate plans and pledged commitments to 100% renewable energy, Hillsborough County has remained notably silent. Hillsborough is home to nearly 700,000 TECO customers who have watched helplessly as their energy bills shoot through the roof. Many, particularly those on a fixed or limited income like seniors, students and low-income families, have had to choose between buying meals and medicine or paying their energy bills.
While world leaders will convene at month’s end in Dubai for a United Nations conference on climate change, we need action here at home to move off fossil fuels. Hillsborough County Commission chairperson Ken Hagan must prioritize the urgent passage of a countywide climate plan that ends fossil fuels and increases energy efficiency, to lower energy bills and do our part to mitigate the climate crisis.
Brooke Ward is the Florida senior organizer with the national environmental advocacy group Food & Water Watch, mobilizing people to build solutions to pressing food, water and climate problems of our time. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This opinion piece was originally published by the Tampa Bay Times, which is a media partner of The Invading Sea. If you are interested in submitting an opinion piece to The Invading Sea, email Editor Nathan Crabbe at email@example.com. Sign up for The Invading Sea newsletter by visiting here.