Florida’s population has tripled since 1970 closing in on 22 million people in 2021, making it the third most populous state in the US. 16 million Floridians live in coastal counties vulnerable to climate-related issues such as rising sea levels and flooding.
Already in 2016, the EPA published a report pointing out that the Florida peninsula had warmed more than one degree (F) during the last century, the sea was rising about one inch every decade (accelerating perhaps to 1-4 feet in the next century), and heavy rainstorms were becoming more severe. It predicted that rising temperatures were likely to increase storm damages, harm coral reefs, increase the frequency of unpleasantly hot days, and reduce the risk of freezing to Florida’s agriculture. And it observed, that along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of Florida, the land surface was also sinking, a result of sea level rise and increased precipitation, submerging wetlands and dry land, which was eroding beaches and exacerbating both coastal and inland flooding.
Florida has large biomass and solar resources, and insignificant oil and natural gas reserves, but its energy grid is primarily powered by imported fossil fuels through interstate pipelines. It is the fourth largest energy-consuming state, but due to its large population, its per-capita energy consumption ranks amongst the lowest five states. After Texas, Florida is the second-largest electricity producing state, with 75% of production powered by natural gas, 10% from coal and nuclear each, with renewables accounting for another 4% as of 2019. Florida is one of twelve states which has not implemented a renewable energy standard and is currently using a combination of state and local incentives, tax credits, and loan programs for certain renewable energy technologies. Net metering and interconnection rules are in place for investor-owned utilities and customer-cited generation facilities that qualify.
In August of 2021 the city of Tampa voted to move the city to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2035, making it the 12th Florida city to do so, despite the current governor signing prohibitive energy bills into law restricting municipalities from taking “actions which restrict or prohibit” energy sources used by utilities. They are also prohibited from banning gas stations or requiring them to install electric chargers. Tampa joins Tallahassee, Gainesville, Orlando, Satellite Beach, Dunedin, Largo, Safety Harbor, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Cocoa & South Miami Beach.
Florida energy policy has typically favored utility companies, which have fought to prevent the direct sale of electricity from solar companies to their customers, as is permitted in 29 other states and territories, this despite Florida having the fourth-highest solar installation rate in the country. In the Spring of 2019 a lawsuit launched by eight kids called for stronger action to decarbonize the energy system in order to preserve their rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. It was rejected by an appeals court in May 2021 as a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal upheld a 2020 decision by Leon County Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll to dismiss the case. The panel did not give a detailed explanation, but cited Carroll’s conclusion that the case involved “nonjusticiable political questions.”
In June, 2021, when a Miami condo collapsed Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm suggested that climate change may have played a role. As engineers weighed whether harsher conditions from climate change – flooding, salt water intrusion, heavier rain, higher temperatures, more intense hurricanes—played a role, a final answer is not yet forthcoming.
CREDIT: JOHN ENGLANDER