UPDATE: Advocates say new rule maintains Florida's outdated status quo on energy efficiency
Floridians have some of the highest electricity bills in the country. Clean energy advocates say one reason is because the state’s regulations on energy efficiency are woefully out-of-date.
Florida's Public Service Commission on Tuesday approved a new rule aimed at updating the regulations, but clean energy advocates say the rule in large part maintains the status quo.
WMFE Morning Edition host Talia Blake talked with environmental reporter Amy Green ahead of the meeting.
TALIA BLAKE: So Amy, what is the meeting that is happening?
AMY GREEN: Well, Florida’s Public Service Commission is meeting to consider a new draft rule on energy efficiency. The PSC is the state agency that oversees utilities.
When it comes to energy efficiency, Florida is behind. One study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy says that almost every other state in the Southeast outperforms Florida when it comes to energy efficiency. And that means things like heating ventilation and air conditioning, water heaters and lighting. In some cases, utilities offer incentives to encourage savings.
BLAKE: Amy, how big of a deal is this? Why does it matter?
GREEN: This is important because energy costs are rising. Just for example, the Orlando Utilities Commission in December approved its fourth rate hike in a year – it says because of a spike in the cost of natural gas.
Susan Glickman of the Florida Clinicians for Climate Action points out that the hardest-hit by these rising energy costs are marginalized communities that are least able to pay. Another study commissioned by the Sierra Club in Florida found that in Orlando there is a wide disparity when it comes to the proportion of household income spent on energy, with low-income communities and communities of color paying more.
“Energy efficiency tends to be an equity issue, because more affluent people are getting more efficient every day. They’re getting new air conditioners, new appliances, maybe new windows.”
BLAKE: So Amy, just how out-of-date are Florida’s regulations on energy efficiency?
GREEN: The regulations have not been updated for 30 years. That takes us back to 1993, well before the heightened awareness on energy efficiency that we now see.
Florida’s utilities every few years have to submit energy efficiency goals before the PSC, and in 2019 the utilities submitted goals that George Cavros of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says effectively were zero. They were really really low. The utilities said building codes and new appliances would do a better job than any rebate at cutting back energy use. But Cavros says utilities are undervaluing energy efficiency by counting energy savings as lost revenues.
“Isn’t the whole idea of an energy efficiency improvement to lower your energy use and save money on your bills? So it’s really a perverse way to set goals.”
Florida is the only state where this kind of cost-effectiveness test is still used. So the Public Service Commission at the time asked its own staff to help work toward better goals. The staff now has produced a new draft rule on energy efficiency, and that is what the Public Service Commission is discussing today.
BLAKE: Amy Green, how does the new rule look?
GREEN: Clean energy advocates say the rule doesn’t go far enough. Cavros says it streamlines the process for implementing new energy efficiency programs but fails to bring real change to Florida’s outdated regulations. He says he’d like to see Florida join other states and adopt a cost-effectiveness test that values energy efficiency as a resource.
The utilities say the rule enables them to bring customers innovative programs while keeping rates low. Just for example, Duke Energy Florida says its energy efficiency programs have helped Floridians save more than $1 billion over the past 40 years, and that the company now is aiming to expand its programs for low-income customers. The Public Service Commission could adopt the rule as-is or again ask its staff to go back to the drawing board.
BLAKE: I’ve been speaking with WMFE environmental reporter Amy Green. Thanks for joining us!
GREEN: You’re welcome.