Solar Together is a model for all the state’s utilities | Column
Addressing climate change through an innovative solar power project is not just a political issue, it’s a moral imperative, writes Sean Shaw.
Florida Power and Light has a large solar array in Sarasota.
Florida Power and Light has a large solar array in Sarasota.
Published Feb. 27, 2020

On Tuesday, the Florida Public Service Commission will have a hearing on whether to approve Solar Together, a proposal that would allow Florida Power & Light to add 20 solar-power plants over two years and significantly decrease our state’s carbon footprint. This project will have long-term ramifications.

Florida is the Sunshine State because of its unending beaches, world-famous theme parks, and wide open sky. That we are not also known to be the world leader in solar is a travesty and illustrates the lack of vision and leadership we’ve had in Florida over the last two decades. The Solar Together program is a model for all the state’s utilities, including Duke Energy and TECO Energy here in Tampa Bay as well as the various municipal and cooperatives around the state. Florida should embrace any effort to diversify our sources of energy production, particularly those that are sustainable and renewable.

Addressing climate change and the threat that it poses to our state isn’t just a political issue, it’s a moral imperative. Lives will be lost, property will be destroyed, and progress will be halted if we fail to live up to our obligation. This is our moment to actually make a difference.

Sean Shaw
Sean Shaw [ Provided by Sean Shaw ]

For decades, community organizers have led the effort to bring solar energy to the sunshine state. Their hard work has culminated in development of the largest community solar program in the United States, with 1,490 new megawatts of solar power - enough to power almost 300,000 homes. This major push is also estimated to save customers $249 million. Unfortunately, Public Service Commission staff recommended the denial of this vital project, despite finding that a majority of the new solar plants are “cost effective” and would benefit all customers, and despite changes to the program that were made to ensure those customers that choose not to enroll don’t bear any risk. The groundswell of support for renewable energy solutions is undeniable. Over 90,000 people have already signed up to participate. The program is endorsed by community groups across the state like Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Vote Solar, Sustainable Florida, Broward, Brevard and Miami-Dade counties. While we understand the philosophical differences of opinions on renewable energy, it shouldn’t be the deterring factor to introducing this program in our state. The option for consumers to opt out helps mitigate partisanship that’s plagued this state’s address of such a pressing quality of life issue. We cannot stand idly by and watch our state suffer the irreversible effects of climate change. We must demand action.

Environmental justice has long excluded low income individuals and people of color. The conversation about how to best move forward, and the solutions to be considered, should include diverse viewpoints and experiences. We all play a role in utilizing fuel resources to sustain our everyday lives. Yet, renewable energy accessibility is limited to those who can afford it; despite the disparaging impacts of coal and gas fuel use, like public health, on these communities. The Solar Together proposal reserves a block specifically for low income customers and gives them a fixed rate, guaranteeing that they will lower their electric bills. By making this program affordable for all, we can move the needle and bring accessible solar participation to our state.

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Florida’s environmental vulnerabilities pose a unique threat to our way of life. Increasing access to, and use of clean renewable energy is key to tackling climate change and sea level rise. Now is not the time for petty political squabbles or partisan grandstanding, that will undoubtedly pose a delay. Now is the time for those in power to stand up and show the political courage to address an urgent threat. We cannot continue to debate what we all know to be a fact, climate change is real and it is not going away anytime soon. Our response will dictate what kind of state we leave to the next generation. The choice is ours. The need for access to renewable energy is imperative. Supporting this type of program is a no-brainer. As the Democratic nominee for attorney general, one of the foundations of my campaign was addressing the devastating effects of climate change on our great state. As a private citizen, I have continued that fight. Florida is worth saving. Our country and our planet is worth saving. The only question left to answer is whether the Public Service Commission has the vision to act.

Sean Shaw was the Democratic nominee for Florida attorney general and is founder of People over Profits.