Business

Florida lags in the middle of the pack for energy efficiency

Posted November 4, 2018 6:11 p.m. EST

Florida has a somewhat dubious reputation when it comes to certain energy issues, such as solar energy capability. And when it comes to using energy efficiently, the Sunshine State doesn't stack up that well either.

Energy efficiency refers to reducing energy consumption through measures such as switching to appliances that run on less power or insulating buildings and homes better so it takes less energy to reach a desired temperature.

According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Florida, the Sunshine State ranked No. 23 for energy efficiency as of October.

The rankings are based on how states perform in categories such as state government, buildings, combined heat and power, utilities, transportation and appliance standards. Florida fared worst for its appliance standards and utilities. It scored zero out of three possible points for appliances because the state does not have appliance standards beyond the federal requirements.

For utilities, it scored two out of 20 possible points because, among other factors, of its lack of energy efficiency resource standards, how annual recovery clauses are structured and that utilities are not required to release energy use data to customers or third parties.

Florida's laws can make energy efficiency a somewhat complicated matter for utilities, advocates say, due to a mismatch in incentives. That's because public utilities are allowed to collect a return on investment for any capital expenditures they create -- such as a new or revamped power plant. That means they make money by building things, not reducing the need for power.

"Their incentive is to build power plants and put concrete in the ground," said Susan Glickman, Florida director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Action Fund.

Plus Florida's energy efficiency goals leave something to be desired, Glickman said. The state Legislature requires the Florida Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, to set energy reduction goals for five investor-owned utilities in the state, which includes Tampa Bay's Duke Energy Florida and Tampa Electric Co. Part of that involves energy efficiency.

Currently, Duke has a goal of saving 195 gigawatt hours per year for the 2015 to 2024 period. Tampa Electric is slated for 144.3 gigawatt hours, according to the Public Service Commission.

The goals are set in increments of five years, and the topic will be revisited by the state regulator next year.

Utilities insist that energy efficiency is a priority for them. Tampa Electric Co. and Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Bay's dominant utilities, both have several incentive programs for their customers to increase energy efficiency within their coverage areas.

Tampa Electric, the Tampa-based utility, has a number of such programs. Ratepayers can upgrade their ductwork, windows, insulation and heating and cooling among others. Customers who upgrade windows to reduce heat from the sun can get a rebate of $2.20 per square foot; adding exterior wall insulation comes with a rebate of 1 cents per square foot.

The utility has offered programs like this since the 1980s and energy efficiency plays a "key role" in its business, Tampa Electric spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said.

"We want our customers to use energy wisely. We don't want anyone to waste energy," she said. But it can't be the only measure. "Energy efficiency by itself is not enough to compensate for the effectiveness of improving our plants."

Duke Energy Florida, too, offers programs such as its free "Home Energy Check" evaluation. The utility performed just over 37,000 audits in 2017, incentivizing about 26,000 energy efficiency measures, according to spokeswoman Peveeta Persaud.

"Energy efficiency saves money and reduces environmental impact," Persaud said.

Florida utilities have some time to figure out their next steps. The Public Service Commission plans to tackle the issue of energy efficiency in mid-2019.

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.