Florida guts goals on energy efficiency

A worker finishes installing solar panels funded by federal stimulus funds atop a government building.
A worker finishes installing solar panels funded by federal stimulus funds atop a government building.
Under state law, Florida regulators are required to set energy-saving goals every five years for power companies. As the Tampa Tribune reports today, the point is to reduce the state's electricity consumption.
For the most part, the goals established in 2009 have had a positive impact: power usage in Florida has declined, while use of renewable energy has expanded.
That's good news, right? Florida utility companies don't seem to think so. In fact, the Tampa Bay Times reported last week that it's time once again for the Sunshine State to renew its energy-saving goals, and this time, the state's power giants are far happier with the results.

State regulators on Tuesday approved proposals to gut Florida's energy-efficiency goals by more than 90 percent and to terminate solar rebate programs by the end of 2015, giving the investor-owned utilities virtually everything they wanted. After almost two hours of debate, members of the state Public Service Commission voted 3-2 in support of staff recommendations that backed the proposals of Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric and Florida Power & Light.

In other words, when it comes to energy efficiency, Florida's new goal is to move backwards -- because that's what the power companies want.
In practical terms, consumers who might receive rebates on the home installation of solar panels and/or energy-efficient appliances will suddenly see those offers disappear. And in the larger context, as the Tampa Tribune report explained, there's a "growing perception that Florida's government has stacked the deck in favor of old guard utilities."
Outside of Florida, however, the emerging picture is far more encouraging.
The New York Times ran this largely overlooked piece last week.

For the solar and wind industries in the United States, it has been a long-held dream: to produce energy at a cost equal to conventional sources like coal and natural gas. That day appears to be dawning. The cost of providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas.

Some of this is the result of subsidies -- including the incentives Florida is eliminating -- but the NYT report added that "recent analyses show that even without those subsidies, alternative energies can often compete with traditional sources."
And at the risk of getting yelled at by Michael Grunwald, let's pause to note that these energy-sector breakthroughs are largely the result of President Obama's Recovery Act, which made the largest investment in clean energy ever made by anyone, anywhere. The result was a quiet revolution in the industry, which otherwise wouldn't have been possible.