JEA needs new plan for energy efficiency

JEA needs new energy efficiency plan to help low-income families.

Guest Blog | June 19, 2020 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Florida

This op-ed originally appeared in The Jacksonville Times on June 15, 2020. It was written by Issis Alvarez, who is with the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida, works in Jacksonville, and calls St. Augustine home.

It’s well established that energy efficiency is the cheapest, quickest and cleanest way to meet energy demand.

But despite of local ownership, Florida’s largest municipal utility, JEA, is failing to truly deliver the financial benefits of energy efficiency that customers need.

JEA’s five-year energy efficiency plan – just approved by the Florida Public Service Commission – fails to include even the most basic energy efficiency programs, further perpetuating systemic inequalities for its most vulnerable customers.

It is another example of harmful actions by a utility in upheaval, leading to the recent removal of the company’s top leadership.

In recent years, JEA achieved some success with both standard and low-income energy efficiency programs, but the new plan does not build on that foundation. Sadly, it does not expand savings for vulnerable customers.

It is well known that residents with limited income spend a higher percentage of their household budget on power bills. Jacksonville has the highest resident energy burden of any major Florida city.

Approximately 38 percent of the population in JEA’s service territory live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Economic and health injustices such as food deserts and food insecurity, lack of access to affordable health care, and inadequate capital investments already exist in these same communities.

JEA’s plan must be overhauled to address the role that a high energy burden plays in creating an unsustainable community health infrastructure and show a commitment in meeting the critical needs of low-income customers.

Neighborhood Energy Efficiency, a JEA program aimed at low income customers, is projected to reach only 1,350 eligible customers annually, serving just 5 percent cumulative penetration of eligible customers over the next five years.

While better than Orlando’s municipal utility plan, JEA’s program lacks the ambition of other utilities.

For instance, Tampa Electric – with 50 percent more customers than JEA – has a program that will serve 32,500 customers (almost five times as many) during the same period.

JEA should go back to the drawing board to create a new plan.

We need a conscientious approach to meaningful investments in efficiency programs for all. We need to help people reduce power bills. Doing so in a transparent way will build assurance among customers that JEA not only hears and understands the issues facing Jacksonville, but is ready to be a part of the solution.

This deliberate recommitment to providing the best possible services to its customers means fully investing in energy efficiency. Struggling families are depending on it.

Issis Alvarez is a nonprofit professional who works in Jacksonville and calls St. Augustine home.

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