By CURT ANDERSON Associated Press
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Florida utilities would gradually increase their electricity to 100% renewable by 2050 under a proposed rule unveiled April 21 by the state’s agriculture commissioner.
The proposed rule is the result of a long-running court battle in which dozens of young people claimed that Florida violated their constitutional rights by continuing its support for fossil fuels that cause climate change. Similar lawsuits were filed in other states.
The rule announced by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic candidate for governor this year, came following pressure from young people represented by the nonprofit Our Children’s Trust who filed a petition seeking the proposal. It’s the first of this magnitude in Florida, which is particularly vulnerable to climate impacts such as coastal flooding, stronger hurricanes, and excessive heat.
Although the rule is not final and could be challenged, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services only has the ability to monitor compliance and not enforce it. Still, Fried said it is “a monumental first step” in curbing climate-altering greenhouse gases that flow from utilities when they burn coal and natural gas.
“This is one of the most urgent issues of our time,” Fried said at a news conference in Miami. “We can’t afford to deny this reality and the urgency of what is happening to our state.”
The proposal would require utilities in Florida to first meet three interim goals regarding the energy they supply. These are 40% by 2030, 63% and 82% respectively by 2035, and 82% by 2040. The rule envisions 100% of renewable energy for utilities in 2050. This will be ten years later. Experts in energy agree that interim goals are important to ensure that major changes don’t get delayed.
According to the federal Energy Information Administration, only about 5% of Florida’s electricity in 2020 was produced by sources such as solar, compared with 75% by natural gas, which is mainly methane.
More than 200 young people signed the rule petition, including Delaney Reynolds, 22, who was 22 years old. She stated at Thursday’s news conference that the rule is a step in the right direction to address one of the major sources of greenhouse gas emission from power plants.
“Today, Florida can begin to address the core causes of climate change,” Reynolds said. “We have no time to waste.”
The state’s largest electric utility, Florida Power & Light, and its parent NextEra Energy Inc., said in a statement that it is already investing heavily in solar energy with 50 centers in operation now and plans to quadruple the capacity by 2031. Florida has been climbing in the national rankings for solar installed.
“As Florida’s renewable energy leader and the leader of the nation’s largest solar expansion, we will continue to work with state leaders to smartly move Florida with even more cost-effective renewable energy,” the FPL statement said.
Duke Energy, another large utility, stated in an email that it is still reviewing the proposed rule, but noted that it plans to have no coal fired power plants by 2035. The company also stated that it is on track to achieve zero carbon emissions from electric power generation by 2050.
Fried heads the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. It also houses the state’s energy office. The agency will allow public comment on the proposed regulation for 21 days. There are also options for hearings and possibly a challenge by an administrative law judge.
Even if the rule is implemented, the agency does not have the ability to enforce it. It can still collect data annually to determine if utilities are making progress. It would be up the Florida Public Service Commission, to take any regulatory action related to this rule.
Valholly Frank, a Seminole Tribe of Florida member aged 19, said that their traditional home in Big Cypress Reservation, which is adjacent to the Everglades, faces severe climate change threats.
“Our culture really depends on this land,” Frank said. “Florida cannot exist the way it is now. We cannot continue this way.”