Converting to clean energy as Florida works to rebuild its pandemic-ravaged economy would create sustainable, sorely needed jobs and fend off the dangers of climate change, says a coalition backing legislation to do just that.
“Our state has a lot to lose if climate change goes unchecked, and a lot to gain in championing renewable energy and energy efficiency,” said Joanne Pérodin, a public health scientist and climate activist with Florida Rising.
For example, she said, Florida is home to 10 of the hottest cities in the United States, with the state averaging 25 “extreme heat” days per year.
“By 2050, we are likely to see close to 130 extreme heat days each year,” Perodin said, citing extreme heat and air pollution as significant causes of illness, sick days, lost wages and medical expenses in Florida.
Heaven Campbell, Florida program director with Solar United Neighbors, said Florida was leading the nation in growth of solar-energy jobs before the COVID pandemic — with a big share held by veterans — and urged lawmakers to prioritize that sector in the rebuilding of the state economy.
“Floridians are suffering and we have jobs on the table. We really need to snatch this opportunity,” Campbell said. “Renewable energy, specifically distributed solar, provides real wealth-building for Florida families through jobs and cost-savings, while also providing countless health benefits for our state.”
Senate Bill 720, sponsored by Sen. Lori Berman, Democrat from Palm Beach County, and House Bill 283, sponsored by Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orange County Democrat, instructs the state Office of Energy, housed in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, to develop a statewide plan for converting fully to clean energy by 2040 and achieving net zero carbon pollution emissions by 2050.
Similar legislation in past years has gone nowhere in the Republican-controlled Capitol, but Berman and Eskamani say they are hopeful Florida’s increasingly obvious vulnerability to climate change and President Joe Biden’s emphasis on climate protection at the national level may diminish resistance.
Along with Perodin and Campbell, supporters of the the bills who spoke on a Zoom conference Tuesday were representatives of Florida Conservation Voters, Catalyst Miami and 100% Renewable FSU, along with biologist Phil Stoddard, former mayor of South Miami, and Lisa Pearcy, founder and CEO of the clean-energy business 15Lightyears.
Pearcy said her company is deeply investing in development of clean energy jobs and retraining of workers to convert Florida’s fossil-fuel-based economy to a clean-energy economy. She said 191 major companies including Johnson & Johnson, Walmart and General Motors have committed to full conversion to clean energy.
“We can impact climate change. We can impact job creation. We can impact the disparity of access to clean energy,” Pearcy said. “We’re working with businesses constantly to support them in transitioning to cutting their carbon emissions. … We’re finding more and more businesses are focused on fighting for our future and impacting climate change.”
Dr. Stoddard, long an advocate for sustainability, successfully championed in South Miami solar installation for new construction and growth of the area’s electric-vehicle charging network. Stoddard said Sunshine State households could save a great deal of money by becoming more energy-efficient and by generating their own solar power.
“I just had the highest electric bill I’ve paid in probably six years. I think it was $23, and that’s because we had a super cloudy November,” he said.
Stoddard described the Berman-Eskamani bill as a road map for revamping state regulation of utilities, alternative energy sources, transportation, building codes and more.
Revising building codes to require reflective roofing materials, solar capacity, greater energy efficiency, and EV-charging outlets is far cheaper than retrofitting homes with those amenities, he said.
Stoddard urged Florida lawmakers to adapt building codes and, across the board, shift their support from fossil-fuel industries toward enabling Florida citizens to independently power their homes and protect their environment from increasing heat, storms and flooding caused by climate change.
“As a peninsula, Florida has more skin in the game than anyone else, but our public policy doesn’t reflect that,” said Sen. Berman, asserting her bill and Eskamani’s are needed now more than ever, with Florida’s climate deteriorating and Florida’s economy struggling to rebound.
“It would be a money-maker for this state,” Berman argued, citing opportunities for small businesses to engage in energy efficiency operations, engineering and construction of clean-energy infrastructure, and even manufacturing of products such as solar panels and clean-energy storage batteries.
Eskamani urged workers in Florida’s fossil-fuel industries — based on oil, gas and coal that create greenhouse gas emissions when burned — to embrace the effort.
“We’re not going to leave any worker behind. You’re part of that future, too,” Eskamani said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the first name of Joanne Pérodin.