'I don't have a lot of hope,' ag commissioner says about her own renewable energy targets
For the first time, the Sunshine State has specific goals and a timeline to get its electricity from renewable sources.
The target is that all of the electricity in Florida be generated from renewable sources by the year 2050. Today, most of the power in Florida comes from burning natural gas. Less than 5% comes from solar energy.
The effort by the state to set renewable energy goals comes from two state laws dating back more than a decade. Young climate activists in Florida petitioned Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried to come up with the targets, which she released Thursday.
Yet, Fried expressed little confidence in hitting the targets included in her timeline, such as 40% of electricity from renewable sources by the end of this decade.
"I don't have a lot of hope under the given circumstances, but that's why we're having this conversation. That's why we're putting it out there," she said.
Fried is the only statewide-elected Democrat and is running for her party's gubernatorial nomination this summer.
"We're elevating it so that more and more people understand that there are good elected officials out here (who) are trying to do well and trying to help the people of our state," she said. "We need the public to understand that they're holding their elected officials more accountable and if they're not accountable, get them out of office."
The goals set out a stair-step approach to wean Florida electricity off fossil fuels. The first benchmark is 40% renewable energy within the next 7 1/2 years. It climbs to 82% by 2040 before eliminating fossil fuels by 2050 from Florida's fuel mix.
"While we are definitely working on these rules, it is just goals," Fried said. "Unfortunately, the enforcement comes from the Public Service Commission."
The commission is a five-person group responsible for utility services such as electricity. Members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.
"One hundred percent renewable is a very lofty goal," said JR Kelly, former Public Counsel of Florida. That position represents Florida utility consumers before the Public Service Commission.
"You never know what breakthroughs in technology could come about in the next five, 10, 15 years that could make (100% renewables) more of a reality. But right now, I just don't know if that is a realistic goal," Kelly said.
The commission is often criticized for being too friendly to utilities. A 2017 report by independent research firm Integrity Florida concluded it was a "captured" regulatory agency and called on the commission to be more independent from the state Legislature.
"I think that the Public Service Commission would be open-minded depending on, number one, what is the cost that would be imposed upon customers?" Kelly said. "That's a balancing act."
Fried also noted the balancing act in the years ahead between shifting how Florida's electricity is generated and cost to customers.
Fried wants the transition to "make sure that the costs of going green does not come down to the consumer and actually hurt our middle class and or lower class families across the state."
The largest electric utility in Florida, Florida Power and Light Co., generates about 70% of its power using natural gas. Its next largest fuel is nuclear. Solar accounts for less than 3% of its electricity.
Duke Energy, the second-largest electric utility in Florida, has a mix that includes 39% from natural gas and oil, 37% from nuclear and 22% from coal. Duke also supplies electricity to five other states.