Although Florida’s power plants emit more pollution than those of any other U.S. state except Texas and Pennsylvania, the state has a huge potential to reduce carbon emissions by harnessing abundant sunshine and energy efficiency opportunities while creating significant job growth and consumer savings.
Remember: Florida isn’t called the Sunshine State for nothing. Although it’s somewhat of a laggard in solar installations, the state ranks third in the nation in solar power potential. And since energy efficiency programs in the state have been extremely limited, Florida also is a virtual goldmine of energy-saving opportunities.
Solar power, including from these panels at the Kennedy Space Center, is one of the many ways Florida can meet its carbon pollution reduction targets under the EPA's new Clean Power Plan. (Hey, they don't call Florida "the Sunshine State" for nothing.) (photo: Marcin Wichary)
And Floridians have a lot to gain from those two options Florida can use to comply with the proposed standards announced last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants.
For example, in 2020, under the EPA standards, Florida could create 10,000 jobs in energy efficiency alone and save households and businesses $48 million on their electricity bills, according to NRDC modeling. That means more jobs for electricians, carpenters, and HVAC contractors. And more work for manufacturers of efficient lighting and appliances, who are getting back to work and staffing up to meet increased demand.
Power-Plant Pollution and Sea-Level Rise
The environmental gains could be huge, too. If EPA chooses to tighten its final standards to more accurately account for the state’s clean energy potential, Florida could cut pollution by at least 11.4 million tons in 2020. That’s the equivalent of taking 2.4 million cars off the roads.
Slashing emissions from coal also will help prevent thousands of asthma attacks, heart attacks and other illnesses that cost Floridians billions in healthcare expenses and lost productivity.
And limiting the amount of carbon pollution in the atmosphere is necessary to moderate the extreme weather events and sea-level rise that are now all-too-frequent features of the Florida landscape. In South Beach, some roads are now regularly flooded during high tides. Virtually all of the state’s counties risk water shortages by mid-century, due to climate change. And in 2012, state taxpayers spent $5 billion of their federal taxes to clean up extreme weather events.
How Florida’s target was set
In putting together the state targets that are central to its Clean Power Plan, the EPA applied the same methodology to each state, conducting extensive “bottom up” analyses. It took into account each state’s carbon pollution starting point, along with its unique energy mix and resource opportunities.
As my colleague David Hawkins explains, and as spelled out in more detail in this fact sheet, EPA considered the carbon pollution reductions each state can make in four areas or “building blocks”: 1) improved coal-plant efficiency (getting more electricity out a ton of coal); 2) using existing (and already-in-the-works) gas plants more effectively ; 3) growing renewable energy like wind and solar at a rate comparable to existing state policies in the region, while retaining 6 percent of existing (and under construction) nuclear generation; and, 4) ramping up the energy efficiency savings from utility programs such as weatherization and upgraded appliance rebates that help families, businesses, and industry save energy and the money they spend on it.
Based on this formula, Florida has a carbon intensity rate reduction target of 38 percent in 2030, from 2012 levels. (Carbon intensity is a measure of the amount of carbon pollution produced per unit of electricity generated.)
The starting point is based on an “adjusted” 2012 rate of 1,200 pounds per megawatt hour (lbs/MWh), declining to 740 lbs/MWh in 2030. There’s also a 2020 “interim” target of 794 lbs/MWh to be sure the state is on the glide path needed to hit its final goal. A megawatt hour, by the way, is equal to 1,000 kilowatts of electricity used continuously for one hour – about the amount of electricity used by about 330 homes during one hour.
Under the standards, EPA will finalize the interim and 2030 targets next June, and then each state will get to choose how to achieve them and will submit a State Implementation Plan detailing the kind of reductions it will deliver from each block. EPA also leaves up to the states whether to enter into regional agreements for compliance, such as the highly successful Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) model. Florida could even join RGGI itself, or enter into a RGGI-like agreement and establish a parallel carbon market with other states in the Southeast and beyond.
Where we are now
Without doubt, Florida has opportunities galore to meet and even beat the EPA targets:
- Scale up solar: With its huge solar potential largely untapped, Florida could include solar and other renewables in its state plan. Unlike 29 other states and the District of Columbia, Florida doesn’t have a renewable energy standard requiring that a specific percentage of electricity be generated from clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. But with the right leadership, Florida could develop one. These standards have been an incredible driver of economic growth . It’s a shame Florida is missing out there, as well as on third-party ownership solar purchase agreements that have driven a surge in solar installation in other states.
- Scale up energy efficiency: A recent study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy estimated Florida could meet nearly 30 percent of its forecasted electricity demand through a portfolio of energy efficiency, renewable energy, better building codes, and clean distributed generation. Given that the state is rife with efficiency opportunities, maximizing them will save residential, business and industrial customers more on energy and help stabilize our climate.
- Explore multi-state approaches: One of Florida’s largest power plant owners, Florida Power & Light/NextEra, also owns assets in the Northeast and since 2009 has participated in the RGGI multi-state, market-based carbon reduction program that’s demonstrated incredible results. As noted above, Florida could engage with nearby states like Georgia and the Carolinas to explore multi-state compliance options, which typically reduce costs because the economies of scale they create provide a wider pool of emissions-reduction choices, or join RGGI itself.
The EPA’s carbon pollution standards will not only save Florida consumers money on energy but also can create new jobs.
In Pensacola, for instance, the Jupiter Group manufactures wind turbine components, currently employing 50. The company welcomes any EPA proposal “that works intelligently towards a clean environment and opens the door for job creation in the wind sector,” says site manager Sean Guidry. Wind power is, in fact, a great compliance option under the EPA plan. Its price has dropped precipitously in the last few years. NRDC’s modeling shows wind power deployment likely would increase under the standards, which Guidry says could help put as many as “150 more people back to work” at Jupiter’s Pensacola plant.
Similarly, the folks at LumaStream in St. Petersburg embrace the new standards. Their LED lighting controls and systems use close to 90 percent less energy than conventional lighting. Already, the company founded in late 2009 has grown from one employee—founder and CEO Eric Higgs—to almost 40. It’s also moving all its manufacturing back from Canada and Taiwan to St. Petersburg. “There’s no question the EPA standards are going to have a positive impact on our business,” Higgs says, especially because the standards will drive energy efficiency in parts of the country that haven’t yet fully embraced this amazing carbon-cutting strategy. “These environmental regulations are moving to new states, and that’s a great opportunity for us,” Higgs says.
Because the standards are part of a national plan, driving demand for clean energy technologies nationwide, Florida’s clean-energy businesses stand to grow and hire more workers, too. “We’re sure this is going to have a positive effect on us,” says Henry Moseley of The Goldsborough Company, a Tampa-area builder who focuses on energy efficiency. “By reducing the carbon output of power plants, energy efficiency retrofits are going to become the norm. They’re no-brainers that save our customers 15-20 percent on energy and often a lot more.”
So, really, what’s not to like? Cost savings, new jobs—“The standards are going to do great things for us down here in Florida,” says Susan Glickman, Florida director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “Not only will they help clean the air our kids breathe and mitigate the sea-level rise that already threatening our coasts, but they will create lots of new jobs for Floridians and save us money on energy. It's a win for all of us."
What remains? The EPA can strengthen its historic proposal, taking advantage of the many opportunities states have to cut carbon pollution. Meanwhile, Floridians need their leaders to seize the opportunity and craft a smart state plan, one that cost-effectively cuts carbon pollution as it grows Florida’s clean energy economy. Doing so will bring a lot of bright days to the Sunshine State.