Guest Column
Here are 3 ideas to bring down the cost of electricity in Tampa Bay and make it more fair | Column
Communities of color often pay the price in pollution, poorer service and a higher energy burden. These ideas would help, write the authors.
Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach.
Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2021) ]
Published Nov. 17

The heat of summer is officially behind us, but we can’t let utility companies like Duke and TECO off the hook. As we celebrate making it through one of the hottest summers on record, it’s essential to acknowledge the disproportionate burden placed on some communities, particularly Black and brown communities, when it comes to soaring energy bills.

While people commonly attribute these high bills simply to high temperatures, it’s crucial to recognize the role of investor-owned utilities and the complex intersection of climate change, race and energy to understand the whole picture.

Michele Rayner
Michele Rayner [ Provided ]

Access to electricity is a fundamental right that every Floridian should enjoy, without regard to their racial or socioeconomic background. Unfortunately, we think that investor-owned utilities often prioritize profits over people, resulting in higher utility costs, inconsistent and unreliable infrastructure, and inadequate service in many communities of color.

Studies have revealed that communities of color frequently face higher energy costs, imposing an unfair financial burden (this stems partly from their residences having less energy efficiency upgrades than other communities); 28% of Black households and 27% of Hispanic households in the Tampa Bay region experience high energy burden, meaning that 6% or more of their income goes just to keeping their electricity on.

Chelsea Rivera
Chelsea Rivera [ xx ]

Many investor-owned utilities have a history of channeling investments into more affluent, predominantly white neighborhoods while neglecting the upgrade and maintenance of systems in communities of color, resulting in more frequent power outages, longer response times during emergencies, and an overall lower quality of service.

In Florida, investor-owned utilities operate as monopolies in their respective service areas, leaving consumers with no choice in selecting their power provider. In exchange for this service territory, these utilities are regulated by the Public Service Commission (PSC), a board of Gov. Ron DeSantis appointees responsible for ensuring reliable and affordable electricity. Investor-owned utilities’ over reliance on nonrenewable resources not only drives up costs for consumers but also contributes to rising temperatures, further exacerbating climate inequalities.

Leading climate scientists emphasize the urgent need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 to stabilize global temperatures and mitigate extreme weather events. Although achieving these goals may seem daunting, hope remains. It is crucial to call upon lawmakers at all levels to champion the following demands:

-- Municipal Authority of Utilities: Municipal utilities, publicly owned and managed by community-elected boards, operate without a profit motive, often resulting in lower residential rates. With Duke’s lease in St. Petersburg expiring in 2026, we have a timely opportunity to pursue this change locally.

-- Publicly-Elected Public Service Commission: If the PSC’s mission is to provide reliable and affordable electricity, then we should have a say in defining “affordable” and “reliable” on our behalf.

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-- Renewable, Clean Energy: We must embrace renewable energy solutions backed by research. In the Sunshine State, solar power is a promising choice.

It’s paramount that we do not further marginalize communities that have borne the brunt of environmental injustice. Black and Latino communities are exposed to 63% and 56% more environmental pollution than they produce, while non-Hispanic white Americans experience 17% less pollution than they produce. As we expand clean energy infrastructure, it must benefit all residents, not just a privileged few.

Michele Rayner, a Democrat from St. Petersburg, represents District 62 in the Florida House of Representatives. Chelsea Rivera is a Climate Equity Policy Fellow with Central Florida Jobs with Justice.