Most states have energy efficiency programs to help homeowners save money on their electric bills. Through these programs, power companies are required to spend a fraction of their sales to help people use less electricity at home. Rebates and incentives help homeowners change lightbulbs, install insulation and other retrofits that lower bills, reduce demand, and prevent the need to build polluting power plants.
Unfortunately, Florida ranks at the botttom of the list for efficiency programs. The national average for energy efficiency programs, as a percentage of sales, is about 1 percent. Florida captures a tiny fraction of that – 0.17 percent. This is because the agency that sets goals, the Florida Public Service Commission, uses a 30-year old practice known as the RIM test. The RIM test overestimates costs and undervalues benefits from energy efficiency. Florida is the only state that still uses this outdated test. This is one of the reasons Floridians pay the 11th highest electricity bills in the country.
The current system is so flawed that in 2019 Florida utilities actually argued for efficiency goals of zero — that’s right, zero. Zero is not a goal. With abysmal efficiency savings and an outdated process so backward that no other state uses it, clearly, Florida’s goal-setting process isn’t working for the families who most need the help.
As a pediatrician, I have seen families who struggle to make ends meet; choosing between buying food or paying the light bill. Saving money on the electric bill gives families more money to spend on groceries, childcare, and other necessities of life. The average single-family home in Florida can reduce its energy use by up to 23 percent through efficiency upgrades, such as improved HVAC, water heating, and lighting, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
In Florida, you can be working full-time, but still struggle to meet basic needs. Sixty-seven percent of all jobs in Florida pay less than $20 an hour. Many people live in older homes, with leaky windows and inefficient air conditioners. Combine an aging home with a low income, and the result is a high energy burden — a major portion of household income is spent paying the electric bill.
As a member of Florida Clinicians for Climate Action, I am concerned about how these underlying challenges are aggravated in a warming world with brutal heat waves and stronger storms. Fortunately, there is a win-win solution. When we use less electricity, we save money and reduce power plant pollution that creates smog, accelerates warming, and harms our health.
Stronger energy efficiency programs in Florida could generate over $12 million in annual health benefits to Floridians, preventing hospital admissions due to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, and avoiding missed days of work, according to the report, “Saving Energy, Saving Lives” by the American Council for An Energy-Efficient Economy. Reducing waste and using electricity wisely is the cheapest, quickest and the cleanest way to meet our energy needs.
The good news is that there’s finally an opportunity to modernize Florida’s outdated policy. The Public Service Commission (PSC) is going through a process to reconsider its goal-setting rule.
The PSC must lead on reforming Florida’s outdated efficiency goals and bring them up to par with national best practices. There is so much on the line for customers – from cleaner air, to more secure homes, to lower bills. The time to act is now.
The PSC needs to hear from citizens that we support smarter energy efficiency goals. You can visit www.energysmartfl.com to learn more, and contact the PSC.
The prestigious medical journal, the Lancet, concluded in their Countdown 2020 report: Aligning the global recovery from COVID-19 with our response to climate change offers a triple win — improve public health, create a sustainable economy and protect the environment. Energy efficiency is the low hanging fruit that Florida needs to start picking. It’s time for Florida to join the 21st century, eliminate outdated policies and dramatically expand efficiency goals to meet the national average of at least 1 percent savings.
Dr. Barbara Nabrit-Stephens is a pediatrician and member for Florida Clinicians for Climate Action and the Bay Area Medical Association.