Florida Can Save Money Under the Clean Power Plan

Guest Blog | October 2, 2014 | Climate Change, Energy Policy

This blog was written by Pamela Rivera at the Natural Resources Defense Council and originally appeared on NRDC’s Switchboard blog.  You can find the original post here.

Earlier this summer, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its draft Clean Power Plan (CPP) standards for cutting carbon pollution from existing, coal-fired power plants in Florida and other states around the country. This plan was greeted with strong support from Floridians, 78% of whom said there should be limits on how much carbon pollution power plants are allowed to emit, 77% of whom said they supported the new EPA rules, and 69% of whom said they wanted an emphasis on renewable energy and energy efficiency — not fossil fuels.

Yet despite the overwhelmingly public support for the CPP, we’ve recently been hearing arguments from Florida utility JEA and others that this plan will supposedly result in higher electricity costs for customers. This is simply not the case. Instead, as St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman puts it, JEA and its coal-fired allies are simply “working overtime to distort the facts, scare the public and undermine” the EPA’s proposed rule.

In fact, the CPP is expected to: a) save Florida households $27 million a year on their electricity bills, b) save Florida businesses $22 million on their electricity bills, and c) create 10,000 new jobs, largely through investments Florida infographic.jpgin energy efficiency. In addition, it’s important to point out that Florida currently sends more than a billion dollars every year out of state in order to import dirty coal – a waste of money when we could be generating that power from solar panels on our homes and businesses, creating good, homegrown jobs that can’t be outsourced. Finally, in addition to its economic benefits, the CPP is further expected to cut Florida’s carbon pollution by 11.4 million tons every year, equivalent to the annual emissions of 2.4 million cars.

Of course, all these benefits can only be achieved if Florida seizes the opportunity presented by the CPP to diversify and modernize its energy system, making it far more efficient and sustainable than it is now.  Fortunately, the EPA gives each state a great deal of flexibility in how it goes about meeting its carbon pollution reduction targets. In the case of Florida, cutting the power sector’s current emissions of around 1,200 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour (MWh) to 740 pounds per MWh will rely heavily on ramping up energy efficiency programs and adding significant solar power (we’re not called the “Sunshine State” for nothing) and wind power generating capacity.

Easing this energy transition is the fact that the costs of non-polluting power sources like solar and wind have been plummeting in recent years. For instance, the price of solar power has been slashed from $76 per watt in 1977 to just $0.36 per watt today. More good news: this decline is continuing into 2014, with no end in sight. The result, as a recent analysis by financial services firm Lazard found, is that “wind and solar PV have become increasingly cost-competitive with conventional generation technologies, on an unsubsidized basis.” It also means, as another recent story noted, that some of the world’s leading institutional investors, managing $24 trillion worth of assets, have called for “an unprecedented re-channelling of investment from today´s economy into the low-carbon economy of tomorrow.”

So now it comes down to a choice for Florida as to which direction we go and who we listen to. On the one hand, we could stick with the status quo – expensive, dirty, fossil-generated power indefinitely – as JEA and other coal-fired Florida utilities appear to prefer. Or, we could move in a direction that’s cleaner, healthier, and far more economical for Florida families and businesses. As the polling indicates, Floridians have already figured out that they prefer clean energy and a healthy environment. Now, if only the utilities and politicians would heed the people’s wishes.

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