Opinion Pieces

Energy efficiency saves money, creates jobs

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Tampa, August 4, 2014 | comments
Florida investor-owned electric companies recently asked the Public Service Commission to "free" them from energy efficiency and conservation standards. Such an anti-consumer move would be misguided.
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By U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, published in the Tampa Bay Times on Aug. 4, 2014.

Florida investor-owned electric companies recently asked the Public Service Commission to "free" them from energy efficiency and conservation standards. Such an anti-consumer move would be misguided.

As a member of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, I have watched other states outperform Florida on energy efficiency and innovative projects that help consumers save money. And when a consumer or business saves money on their electric bill, they have more resources to invest on other goods and services — creating jobs and expanding the economy. 

Massachusetts has been a leader in energy efficiency by requiring utilities to save a large and growing percentage of energy every year through efficiency measures.

Ohio saw significant improvement in 2013 with its efforts to ramp up utility programs to meet energy efficiency resource standard targets — resulting in increased electricity savings. 

Florida is in the bottom half of states when it comes to energy efficiency, and instead of aiming higher, Florida utilities argued that even modest energy conservation efforts are too costly. They have proposed to slash their annual energy savings goals from an already anemic 2,012 gigawatt hours in 2009-13 to 263 gigawatt hours for 2015-19.

The business model for selling energy is upside down. Florida utilities have incentives to build large power plants and sell as much energy as possible. This outdated business model fails to meet the modern challenges of Florida's future, protect its consumers, create jobs and tackle the rising expenses of a changing climate. 

A more aggressive commitment to energy efficiency would yield major economic benefits, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy. By 2050, ACEEE estimates that significant investments in energy efficiency at state and federal levels could benefit all parts of the economy — adding 2 million jobs and saving consumers an average of $400 billion per year.

Florida utilities and PSC business models have it backwards: Building power plants, pushing increased energy sales and neglecting energy efficiency targets has become too costly for Florida consumers. 

Just imagine what the Duke Energy ratepayers on the west coast of Florida could have done with the $3 billion they spent on the broken Crystal River nuclear power plant or the jettisoned Levy County plant. Consumers are on the hook for $3 billion that did not produce a single kilowatt hour of energy. With $3 billion, they could have provided energy-efficient appliances, efficient AC systems, weatherized homes, insulation, smart meters to many Floridians and businesses — and created thousands of jobs doing so.

Florida also is facing the rising costs of the changing climate and extreme weather events, so it is in Florida's interest to reduce carbon pollution through efficiency. Drastically reducing energy conservation will only make it more difficult and costly to reduce carbon pollution by 2030, when the state must do so by 38 percent. Electric utilities and the PSC business model fail to factor in the costs of climate change like flood insurance, homeowners insurance, infrastructure repairs through property taxes, and beach renourishment. Utilities are focused on their bottom line while Florida consumers are left to pay the price. 

PSC members should reflect upon their responsibility to the "public" and side with consumers over electric company profits. Policymakers also should update the electric utility model in Florida so we can expand our economy, save consumers money and tackle environmental challenges. Florida should be a powerful player on the energy efficiency scorecard, not gamble on power plays.

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