Florida ranks near the bottom of U.S. states when it comes to conserving energy.
And during an arcane regulatory meeting last week in Tallahassee, the state’s biggest utilities argued to lower that bar even more. The utilities asked state regulators for permission to lower their energy efficiency goals for the next decade to zero (or nearly zero).
Eliseo Santana with the Pinellas County chapter of the League of Latin American Citizens was critical of the state’s appointed utility regulators, saying that it appears to him that they have become more of “an advocate for the electrical generating companies.”
I believe they have forgot their roots, which is to take care of our energy needs,” said Santana, who traveled to Tallahassee to make his voice heard.
Susan Glickman, the state director for the Southeast Alliance for Clean Energy, said abandoning energy efficiency goals in Florida is a mistake.
“The state’s big monopoly power companies are walking away from their responsibility to help families reduce energy waste and save money by asking for zero and near-zero goals,” she charged.
Florida law requires the state’s appointed utility regulation panel, the Public Service Commission, to set energy conservation goals for each public utility every five years. The utilities are supposed to promote programs to help customers conserve energy and lower their bills. But, of course, that means less money in the utility’s pocket.
In 2014, the last time regulators met to set the five-year goal, utilities collectively proposed reducing efficiency efforts by at least 80 percent. State regulators approved the proposal.
At the Public Service Commission’s meeting last week, the utilities admitted that they have little economic incentive to promote energy efficiency, and one company official said that if they were to do so, it would cause higher bills.
“We don’t think inefficient energy-efficiency mandates make sense,“ says Florida Power & Light spokesman Bill Orlove. “We have long believed that empowering our customers to make energy-efficient choices that are right for them is a better approach than charging higher rates to pay for handouts that only some customers can use.”
One reason that Florida ranks so low on energy efficiency goals compared to the rest of America is that it’s the only state in the country that still relies on a formula that counts the revenues utilities could lose from energy efficiency as a “cost,” something that most states have realized doesn’t appropriately value energy efficiency.
In arguing to abandon energy efficiency goals, the utilities offered various excuses.
“Conservation is an important aspect of every utility’s portfolio,” Florida Public Utilities Company said in its filing. “However, the importance of pursuing conservation programs must be balanced against the cost and the impact of such cost on ratepayers.”
Duke Energy “does not believe there is currently a need for incentives,” the company wrote to the Public Service Commission .
The other major utilities (Gulf Power, Florida Power & Light, Tampa Electric, Orlando Utilities Commission, and Jacksonville Electric Authority ) made similar arguments.
If the Public Service Commission sheds the conservation goals, Florida would be in the minority among states. Twenty-seven states are setting long-term energy savings targets, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. In Virginia, for example. legislators passed a measure last year that requires that utilities invest more than $1.3 billion over the next decade in programs that help customers conserve energy. More modestly, the Arkansas public service commission approved new energy savings targets of 1.2 percent for 2020-2022.
Representatives from Duke Energy, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric all told the Florida Phoenix that they will continue to offer programs to help low-income customers save energy. Groups representing those customers showed up on the first day of the Public Service Commission hearings – and they weren’t happy.
Citizen activists representing League of Latin American Citizens and the progressive New Florida Majority came to protest against the utilities’ requests.
“There’s no incentives for landlords to create energy efficiencies, so people at the lower end of the income spectrum who are renters are denied any kind of benefit of the latest technologies, whether it’s the reduced costs that solar provides, or its energy efficiency,” said the Reverend Dr. Russell Meyer, executive director of the Florida Council of Churches. “We need a Public Service Commission, not a Corporation Service Commission.”
The public wasn’t allowed to speak at the hearings, which upset some who made the trek to the state capital.
“I’m not happy to come all the way to Tallahassee to represent the people of Pasco County, and I think they need to be more transparent and accessible to communities and start going out to libraries and other regional centers in the different counties so that people have input what’s going on,” said Tina Vargas, a member of the Pasco County Democratic Hispanic Caucus.
The Public Service Commission disagrees, with a spokesperson saying that the panel accepted written statements from the public on setting new conservation goals.
There were 1,432 documents submitted by the public into the docket file of just one company, Florida Power & Light, as of last Wednesday. Public Service Commission members will presumably be reading those statements.
Mayors from Sarasota, Largo, Dunedin and St. Petersburg have all contacted the Public Service Commission this summer, calling on the regulatory panel to increase energy efficiency goals.
St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman wrote that in other places, such as Chattanooga, Tennessee, leaders are working through partnerships and shared data “to increase participation in energy efficiency programs, creating bill savings and health improvements for customers who might otherwise be vulnerable to disconnection.”
Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin was blunt: “If the state of Florida does not enforce higher standards for utility companies, efficiency will not be addressed by the utility companies,” he wrote.
The Public Service Commission is expected to announce its decision this fall.