A nonprofit advocacy organization is calling on state utility regulators to solicit public input before rewriting Florida’s energy efficiency rules.
On July 7, the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC), which regulates Florida’s privately operated utilities and to a lesser extent their municipal counterparts, directed staff to begin a rule-making process that could change the state’s energy efficiency practices going forward.
In response, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) filed a request with the PSC calling for a public workshop to be held before the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act rules are rewritten.
“We support the Florida Public Service Commission initiating new rulemaking, which is sorely needed to improve the way energy conservation goals are set for the state’s largest electric utilities,” said Forest Bradley-Wright, SACE’s Energy Efficiency Director. “Current practices around energy efficiency goal setting are failing Florida’s hardworking families, who continue to struggle with unaffordable energy bills. When several utilities attempted to use outdated rules to slash their energy savings goals to zero last Fall, it became obvious to the Commission and the public that the state’s energy efficiency practices require serious reform.”
Susan Glickman, Florida Director of SACE, said energy efficiency is an essential part of reducing fossil fuel emissions, a necessary step for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.
“Florida has so much to lose in terms of coastlines and our tourism economy or agricultural industry,” she said. “We’re all on the front line for the impacts.”
Bradley-Wright said improved energy efficiency would also save residents money on their electricity bills, which may be more important than ever given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“With the ongoing economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis, energy bills are even more unaffordable for millions of Florida families and businesses,” he said. “We urge the Commission to convene a public workshop on this important issue before its staff rewrites the state’s energy efficiency rules.”
Florida was ranked lower than almost any other state in energy efficiency in a 2018 report from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
During the July 7 meeting, the PSC went against its own staff’s recommendation and unanimously approved state utilities’ plans for proposed energy conservation programs, many of which would help low-income customers save money on their electricity bills, as was reported by the Tampa Bay Times.
That came after the PSC denied the utilities’ initial proposed goals in November. Many had proposed lowering their energy efficiency goals to near zero over the next decade. JEA, Jacksonville’s city-owned utility, recommended a zero improvement goal.
“During the 2019 goal-setting procedure, we asked utilities for more robust, updated demand side management programs, and they complied,” said PSC Chairman Gary Clark. “Overall, program costs will be slightly less for customers, so we found the utility programs to be in the public interest.”
Jacksonville has one of the highest energy burdens in the state, according to the SACE. Energy burden refers to the percentage of household income that goes toward energy costs.
“Low income customers, they most often pay a disproportionately higher portion of their income toward their electric bill. And here we are at a time with COVID-19 where people are suffering job loss and economic pain and cannot necessarily keep up with their electric bill in the first place,” said Glickman.
JEA did temporarily halt utility disconnections and the city sent out about 10,000 utility relief debit cards worth $200 to help customers who qualified due to a coronavirus-related hardship.
JEA’s amended energy efficiency plan includes the continuation of a low-income program, called the Neighborhood Energy Efficiency Program, which is projected to reach 1,350 eligible low-income customers every year, amounting to a 5% cumulative penetration of eligible customers and helping an estimated 6,750 low-income customers helped over the next five years.
Tampa Electric, which does serve about 50% more customers than JEA, has a similar program that’s projected to help 32,500 customers during that same period. Meanwhile, Duke Energy Florida’s plan is expected to provide three times the energy savings to each of the low-income families it serves.