As Florida works toward economic recovery from the crisis wrought by COVID-19, we have an opportunity to champion something that will bring in jobs and jump-start our economy: deploying advanced energy, like energy efficiency, solar, energy storage and electric vehicles.
Florida saw advanced energy employment increase by 5 percent in 2019, more than double the state’s overall job growth rate. With more than 182,000 workers in Florida, the advanced energy industry has become a significant segment of the state’s economy.
Across the state, there are countless businesses and nonprofits that are powering communities’ advanced energy economy. As just one example of many in Florida, since Tampa-based affordable housing nonprofit Coastal Bay Properties launched its Weatherization Assistance Program in 2003, it has helped more than 2,200 low-income residents lower their utility bills. That’s a big deal for the families who have lower utility bills, and it also helps employ dozens of hardworking local residents.
Since last year, advanced energy employment is down 14 percent due to the impacts of COVID-19, but the prior growth demonstrates the industry’s ability to contribute to a robust economic recovery. An analysis commissioned by Advanced Energy Economy found that potential federal stimulus funds invested in advanced energy technologies would generate a 4-to-1 return on the public investment for the Florida economy.
Looking toward the upcoming 2021 legislative session, which starts on Tuesday, here are three things Florida could do to capitalize on advanced energy and bring new jobs and investment to the state:
Electric Vehicles: Last year, the Legislature passed SB 7018, which requires the development of a statewide master plan for electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The governor’s proposed budget allocates $30 million for the implementation of the State Mitigation Plan, which would reduce diesel emissions and provide funds for electric buses and charging infrastructure.
Meeting Commercial and Industrial Demand for Renewable Energy: Next, Florida should provide more ways for companies in the state to buy renewable energy. A recent Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) report projects that developing enough renewable energy to meet corporate demand in Florida through 2030 could create 48,000 jobs and drive more than $1 billion per year in capital investment. Programs offered by some utilities let consumers buy solar energy by subscription, but there is still untapped opportunity to meet customer demand for solar.
Advanced Energy for All: Finally, the governor and Legislature should help local governments, schools, and families take advantage of the benefits of advanced energy. Through consumer education and modest financial incentives, the state could stimulate investments in energy efficiency, demand response, solar power, and other advanced energy technologies for local governments, small businesses, schools, and households. Florida still lags behind many other states in encouraging efficiency investments, which leaves households, businesses, and schools across the state burdened with bigger energy bills than necessary.
With the Florida Legislature just hours away from gaveling into session, we are now in a position to enact business-friendly legislation that can help bolster the advanced energy market and keep up with demand for consumers and business owners alike. Investments in advanced energy can help Florida’s economy recover from the COVID-19 crisis and lead the state into a brighter future.
Ebo Entsuah is a policy principal for Advanced Energy Economy, a national business organization.