Last Tuesday, Florida’s Public Service Commission voted 3 – 2 to discontinue all of the State’s solar rebate programs and reduce Florida’s energy-efficiency goals by more than 90 percent by the end of 2015. Meanwhile Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric and Florida Power & Light will receive billions of dollars in new power plants, including a natural gas plant.
The Florida Public Service Commission’s stated mission is to ensure “Florida’s consumers receive some of their most essential services — electric, natural gas, telephone, water, and wastewater — in a safe, reasonable, and reliable manner.” It appears that three of the commissioners have put profits for the utility companies over the safety and long-term benefit of Florida residents.
The utilities pressed for the cuts to energy efficiency and the end of the solar rebate programs because they said neither is cost-effective. The utilities insist that it is now cheaper for them to produce a kilowatt of electricity than to save it.
Other states continue to find ways to save energy at less cost than generating it because they have policies aimed at doing just that.
Vermont, for instance, pays manufacturers to offer high-efficiency products at lower prices. A compact fluorescent light bulb that costs $1.25 in Florida costs 99 cents in Vermont. Policies like that, big and small, mean Vermont now meets 2.12 percent of its annual energy needs by saving electricity rather than producing it.
In Florida, the number is 0.25 percent — and now dropping.
The moves by Florida utilities come as the ground beneath them continues to shift, threatening their business model. Increasingly, they are in need of ways to thwart the growing impact of rooftop solar and battery storage technology that could give more consumers energy independence.
And the utilities know it all too well. What the rest of the world admiringly calls renewable energy and conservation, the utilities call “disruptive” technologies.
“The financial risks created by disruptive challenges include declining utility revenues, increasing costs, and lower profitability, particularly over the long-term,” according to a report written for the Edison Electric Institute, which represents all U.S. investor-owned utilities.
Kudos to Commissioners Lisa Edgar and Julie Brown, the two dissenters, for caring about Florida’s environment.
Lisa Edgar is quoted as saying, “I am uncomfortable going to the reduced goals. It is a policy and it is a statement, as a state, of what our energy policies are.”