Pressured by Big Utilities, 'Sunshine State' Ends Solar Incentive
Florida's official state nickname is "The Sunshine State." But the state is doing its best to make that title seem ironic.
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With its legendary sunny climate, it's perfectly positioned to generate much of its power from solar energy and help address climate change—something it's particularly vulnerable to, given its exposure to rising sea levels and hurricanes. But yesterday its regulatory Public Service Commission (PSC) voted 3-2 to give in to utility industry pressure to eliminate its solar installation incentives and to weaken its clean energy standards by slashing its energy efficiency programs.
"State regulators on Tuesday approved proposals to gut Florida's energy-efficiency goals by more than 90 percent and to terminate solar rebate programs by the end of 2015, giving the investor-owned utilities virtually everything they wanted," wrote Tampa Bay Times reporter Ivan Penn.
"It's not the direction I want to go in," said commissioner Lisa Edgar, one of the two dissenters. "I am uncomfortable going to the reduced goals. It is a policy and it is a statement, as a state, of what our energy policies are."
Apparently, the statement is that Florida doesn't have the will to utilize its natural assets or move toward energy efficiency if someone's profit is threatened.
"It's a very sad day for the state of Florida," Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), told the Tampa Bay Times. "It's completely inconsistent with what the other states are doing. We believe there may have been laws broken today by not setting goals. We as an organization are going to try to find every outlet possible to continue to fight."
And Kelly Martin, senior Florida representative for the Sierra Club, said, "Today, the PSC failed Florida families by caving to big polluters. Florida already ranks in the bottom half of the nation for energy efficiency, and now will only fall farther behind, costing families and businesses in the process."
According to SACE, the rollbacks will result in an 87-99 percent reduction in customer energy savings, while enhancing utility company profits.
SACE and Earthjustice, which is representing it, issued a joint statement, saying, "The historic rollbacks in conservation goals approved today by the Florida PSC are bad news for customers—especially those on lower incomes. During the proceeding, SACE showed that higher levels of energy efficiency cost less than building new, more costly power plants. Instead of siding with customers, the PSC sided with monopoly utility shareholders, once again, by setting meager goals that promote the construction of new power plants—which earn the companies a hefty profit, while leaving fewer opportunities for customers to lower energy use and save money on bills."
The commissioners did agree to hold workshops on ways to encourage solar energy adoption following the ending of the rebate program. Meanwhile, they green-lighted a Duke Energy proposal for a $1.5 billion natural gas plant to replace a closed nuclear plant that broke during an upgrade/maintenance project and a pair of coal plants the company is phasing out.
"The moves by Florida utilities come as the ground beneath them continues to shift, threatening their business model," said the Tampa Bay Times. "Increasingly, they are in need of ways to thwart the growing impact of rooftop solar and battery storage technology that could give more consumers energy independence. And the utilities know it all too well. What the rest of the world admiringly calls renewable energy and conservation, the utilities call 'disruptive' technologies. The financial risks created by disruptive challenges include declining utility revenues, increasing costs and lower profitability, particularly over the long-term, according to a report written for the Edison Electric Institute, which represents all U.S. investor-owned utilities."
Florida joins states like Ohio, which froze its clean energy standards in June and is on track to repeal them, and Arizona, which imposed a fee on those installing rooftop solar, in moving backward in its energy policies.
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This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. EDT </strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."</p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
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