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Guest Commentary: Time to face the facts on energy and climate

October 16, 2019
By Nikki Fried , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Energy impacts all of us all day, every day. From producing our food, powering our homes and devices, moving around our communities, and driving our industries, energy is the foundation of our daily lives.

Meanwhile, climate change poses a growing threat to our state, our economy and our very future.

These things are interconnected. Energy, climate, water, air and other issues don't exist in a vacuum. And the time is now to take them seriously.

It's time to face the facts on energy and climate. Here are a few of those facts:

Since 1950, greenhouse gas emissions have increased by over 400 percent. Here in Florida, 92 percent of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels the leading driver of accelerating climate change.

We're the third-largest state, consuming the nation's third-most energy, including 800,000 barrels of oil per day.

Florida faces the nation's highest coastal flooding threat, with 3.5 million people at risk, and the nation's highest risk of extreme heat by 2050.

Up to 30 million people will call Florida home by 2045 so we need to change how we use energy and how we approach our looming climate crisis.

I'm not sitting back and waiting until it's too late. Here's what we're doing now:

Last week, our Office of Energy held the 2019 Florida Energy & Climate Summit in Tampa the first state-level summit to address climate change since 2008, under then-Governor Charlie Crist.

What we learned is that we need partnerships to take on climate change together, we need investments on energy efficiency, resiliency, and mitigation, and we need innovation to meet these challenges.

On the summit's final day, I announced our 2020 legislative package to address energy efficiency water, and climate change. These common-sense, reasonable proposals will inventory the state's own greenhouse gas footprint, help farms afford water conservation and energy efficiency upgrades, fund much-needed climate and energy research, and much more.

I've also asked lawmakers to approve studies on the energy burdens low-income Floridians face and improving our state's energy infrastructure, as well as a pilot project on electric grid resiliency to meet demands of the future, like electric car charging.

We also need meaningful energy efficiency standards. For 40 years, the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act, or FEECA, has failed to establish reasonable goals for our state's utilities. FEECA was supposed to reduce demand for new power plants yet since 2014, five new fossil fuel facilities have been approved, including one I voted against in July.

Since 2009, energy efficiency goals for utilities have spiraled downwards and are now at, or near, zero. That's unacceptable, and it's why last week I called for a new, statewide dialogue about holding utilities accountable for real energy efficiency and conservation standards. What we have now isn't working, and we need to start over.

We need to join states making real strides on energy through innovative approaches, like public benefits charges. Two percent of Florida's energy comes from renewable sources yet in California, it's 19 percent. New York has saved 80 million tons of carbon, Oregon has created $7.7 billion in energy efficiency savings and Connecticut is conserving 2.9 million megawatt-hours.

Air quality is also critical to our future, and it's why last week I announced major changes to our state's prescribed burning program for agricultural crops such as sugarcane. For the first time in nearly 30 years, we're factoring in key air quality metrics when authorizing prescribed fires, helping improve air quality in local communities.

Floridians didn't elect me to continue the status quo. We can't afford to bury our heads in the sands of our famous beaches and do nothing.

While then-Gov. Rick Scott allegedly banned state employees from even saying the words climate change, we're openly talking about it and we're doing something about it.

While previous administrations glossed over energy efficiency and conservation, we're recognizing that what we're doing now isn't working so we need to start over.

The science is real. Our climate is changing. Our energy use is unsustainable. It's time to face the facts. And it's time to rise to meet the challenge of our generation.

- Nicole "Nikki" Fried, a Democrat, serves as Florida's 12th Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

 
 

 

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