Boost Florida’s energy efficiency

If you care about the air you breathe, the water you drink and the strength of our local economy, then you also ought to care about a big decision coming up relating to energy policy.

The Florida Public Service Commission, which regulates utility companies, will soon decide whether to establish adequate energy-efficiency standards. These standards would require utilities to take basic steps to reduce energy waste.

Sarasota, Coral Gables, Dunedin, Largo, Miami, Miami-Dade County, St. Petersburg and Palm Beach are among the cities and counties urging the commission to invest in efficiency.

As someone who has worked on energy, sustainability and climate policies around the world, I applaud these governments for advocating for ratepayers, businesses and seniors. Florida’s current energy strategy costs too much and pollutes too much. Our state is an outlier for the rest of the country.

Why are we an outlier? Because five years ago, the commission eliminated almost all efficiency programs. We’ve been paying the price ever since, through higher electricity bills and more polluted air, both of which weaken our economy.

Now the commission proposes to fix that by investing in greater efficiency. Energy efficiency is the least expensive way to meet Florida’s energy needs. It’s a much better use of funds than squandering

them on new power plants.

Building power plants may increase the assets of utility companies, but they’re a bad deal for ratepayers, businesses and seniors, for five reasons.

First, these power plants make electricity more expensive. Power plants cost hundreds of millions, and sometimes billions, of dollars to build.

Second, they spew pollution into the air, which triggers asthma in kids, lung disease in adults, and accelerates climate change.

Third, new power plants support fewer jobs compared with efficiency, which employs people in trades like construction, installation and manufacturing.

Fourth, power plants can make Florida less resilient to hurricanes because more infrastructure needs to be restored or replaced after big storms.

Fifth, power plants can require out-of-state expenses for fuel, like fracked gas, instead of keeping our money here in the local Florida economy.

Ratepayers pay for new power plants via higher electric bills, more health problems among kids and seniors, less resilience to storms, fewer local jobs, and reducing money in our local economy.

But through efficiency, we can avoid all this, and do just the opposite.

Efficiency lets us collectively reduce our electricity waste, thanks to services that, for example, help us switch out old air conditioners, insulate

our homes and install programmable thermostats.

These programs create local jobs, save money, and can be designed to specifically assist vulnerable underserved or elderly populations who need the help most.

For these reasons and more, every $1 invested in efficiency typically returns at least $2 to $4, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Florida has some of the weakest energy-efficiency standards in the country. But the Florida Public Service Commission has cities, counties and citizens like me asking for change.

Both economically and environmentally, the facts on the side of energy efficiency are compelling. Please encourage your local leadership to advocate for adequate investments in energy efficiency.

Meg Lowman, Ph.D., is director of the TREE Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to tree research, exploration and education. She formerly wrote the “Nature’s Secrets” column for the Herald-Tribune. She lives in Osprey.

This article was originally published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.