By Mari Corugedo, State Director, Florida League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and George Cavros, Florida Energy Policy Attorney, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
This time of year, our temperatures are sky high and, unfortunately, so are our monthly energy bills.
The good news for hard working families is that it doesn’t have to be this way: Making energy efficiency improvements, sometimes minor ones, can help save energy and money while also making homes a more comfortable temperature.
The bad news is most Florida power companies want to walk away from investing in efficiency improvements that would help customers reduce energy use and save money on bills. Yet, they are required to do so by law. The state of Florida is now reviewing the power companies’ proposed energy efficiency goals for the next ten years, and most Floridians live where utilities are literally proposing a goal of ZERO or next to ZERO. That is not a goal; it’s a cop out.
Florida Power & Light, for instance, wants to cut its goal by 99.9% to the equivalent of saving the energy use of just eight homes when they have over 5 million customers! Gulf Power and others have proposed goals of zero.
A decision on the power companies’ energy efficiency goals will be made by the Florida Public Service Commission in early November.
Floridians pay the 8th highest power bills in the country. Yet, we are almost dead-last among states in capturing energy savings for customers through energy efficiency programs. Utilities can design efficiency programs to help all customers, even those that rent their homes. The helpful options include providing rebates on more energy efficient appliances, attic insulation, and A/C upgrades to providing services directly to lower-income customers such as refrigerator coil cleaning and A/C tune-ups.
Florida has over 5 million low income customers who spend an average of over three times the percentage of their income on energy compared to higher income customers. People are making choices between keeping their lights on and temperatures safely comfortable or paying for medicines, rent, mortgage or even food.
Some are forced to turn the A/C off altogether. The heat in our state can be dangerous. In the summer of 2017, there were over 6,000 heat-related ER visits and 41 deaths.
Reverend Dr. Russell Meyer who leads the Florida Council of Churches has helped more parishioners pay their energy bills than their rent.
Saving energy not only saves families money each month. It also helps fight the climate crisis. Most of the energy we use in Florida comes from burning coal and gas that heats up the planet, while also polluting the air we breathe. Using energy smarter is the quickest, cheapest and cleanest way to protect our environment for the next generation.
There is a long list of individuals, organizations and local officials who want to see energy efficiency increased here in the Sunshine State. That list includes a dozen municipalities, thousands of Floridians, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Florida League of United Latin American Citizens, New Florida Majority, Earthjustice, Catalyst Miami, The CLEO Institute, Florida Council of Churches, the League of Women Voters Florida, Florida Conservation Voters, Black Voters Matter Fund, as well as low-income advocates, medical providers, and businesses.
The only ones who seem to oppose real energy efficiency goals are most of the utilities themselves.
But we don’t need to convince the utilities. We need the Public Service Commission and Governor DeSantis to step in and put Florida families first.
We have seen what happens in other states when utilities take energy efficiency seriously. It’s a win win, for our wallets, for public health, and for the environment. It’s about time we see these benefits in Florida.