Over 100 people are expected to join a protest rally in Tallahassee on Monday ahead of hearings before Florida’s Public Service Commission (PSC) that could see the state’s energy conservation programs slashed by up to 93 percent.
The rally is being organized by the Sierra Club and the Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition — groups which say that the cuts put forward by some of Florida’s largest utilities will hurt ratepayers and the environment.
“In the long term, peoples’ power bills are going to go up… there won’t be any relief to prevent them from going up,” Sierra Club spokeswoman Jenna Garland told the Bradenton Herald. “The utilities are proposing cutbacks to these energy-saving programs. This is a huge problem because these programs help save people money on their power bills.”
Protesters are also upset because the hearings have been closed to the public, after the PSC declared them too “technical” for public participation. If ratepayers want to object to proposed changes, they will have to submit written comments.
For years, ratepayers in Florida have paid a few extra dollars a month on their power bills to support utility programs that offer customer rebates for installing better insulation, efficient windows and energy-efficient appliances.
These programs cost Duke Energy residential customers about $4.02/month. Florida Power & Light (FPL) adds a monthly charge of $3.37/month to power bills to fund the programs.
But now, as these programs and others are up for a five year review, utilities are arguing that the programs are not necessary and not cost effective
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Duke Energy is proposing to slash energy conservation from 333 gigawatt hours (GW/h) in 2019 to just 21 GW/h. Tampa Electric’s proposal would take the utility from conserving 39 GW/h to 17 and Florida Power & Light would slash the energy it saves from 229 GW/h to 4 GW/h.
Also on the chopping block at the hearings — which will go through Wednesday — are programs that provide subsidies to homeowners to install rooftop solar arrays.
Florida’s big utilities are arguing that given the abundance and low cost of natural gas, it is cheaper for them to build new power plants than to support energy conservation. They also say that energy is already being conserved thanks to government efficiency rules for building construction, appliances, and light bulbs.
“There is no economic justification for reducing conservation goals,” Martin Kushler, senior fellow with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, told the Tampa Bay Times. “The argument that efficiency is not cost effective is blatantly false.”
Kushler said that these sort of energy conservation programs generally cost about 2.8 cents to save a kilowatt hour. In contrast, a new natural gas plant costs 7 to 8 cents to generate a kilowatt hour. The U.S. Department of Energy has reported similar numbers.