Yoca Arditi-Rocha, Katie Chiles Ottenweller: Floridians Deserve Better than More Fossil Fuels and Higher Bills

State regulators should reject FPL’s shortsighted rate hike

While Floridians were faced with hardships ranging from a global pandemic to an unprecedented unemployment crisis, FPL actually increased its profits by 10 percent. Now, the company is asking for $2 billion in new revenue, and it expects burdened Florida families to foot the bill. The proposal requires approval by state regulators at the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC), where it currently is at the center of a contentious review process.

What are Floridians getting in exchange for this rate hike? Having spent literally hundreds of hours reviewing FPL’s filing, we can say this: While FPL is proposing some sound investments (additional solar power, for instance), overall its plan is financially risky, environmentally backwards, and does little to address the problem of unaffordable energy bills. The PSC should reject FPL’s rate increase and send the company back to the drawing board to come back with a plan that puts people and climate at the forefront.

A staggering 1.4 million customers already struggle to pay FPL’s average residential electric bill. If the company’s plan is approved, it will mean a rate increase of 18 percent over four years — a shockingly out-of-touch hike showing little regard for the difficulties faced by overburdened communities.

Energy poverty is a dangerous thing. Even before COVID, one in five households had to limit necessities like food and medicine in order to pay an energy bill. Amid the pandemic, FPL resumed disconnections far sooner and at a far higher rate than other Florida utilities, leaving more than 550,000 customers without power during a crisis and unable to shelter at home safely. FPL’s plan does not propose a single new program or protection to help these Florida families keep the lights on, or to help communities be more resilient during power outages.

Besides being harmful to the health and well-being of its customers, the rate increases are simply excessive. FPL proposes that customers pay $974 over four years for four extra minutes of reduced outages each year. But it also chose to ignore energy-saving alternatives in favor of additional gas plants, despite the fact that over 70 percent of its energy already comes from gas.

Our rapidly changing climate can’t afford FPL’s over-reliance on fossil gas. Florida is ground zero for the climate crisis. In just the past several years, we’ve all witnessed historic wildfires, freeze events, extreme weather events, and rising seas and storms worsened by climate change. Our climate is changing, primarily due to the burning of oil, gas, and coal. If we do nothing, the world will become significantly less inhabitable.

As a historic heatwave rages across the country, FPL customers are feeling the impacts. Miami-Dade County, for instance, broke several heat index records in June and July. Scientists tell us that extreme temperatures kill 5 million people a year, and heat-related deaths are rising as our climate continues to change.

Yet FPL remains one of very few large electric companies that has not committed to a 100 percent renewable clean energy future. In failing to take this critical step, FPL falls behind peer utilities that are aggressively pursuing climate-friendly strategies while putting Floridians’ physical and financial health at risk.

FPL could be harnessing the power of clean energy to make cutting-edge investments to deliver savings for the grid and for customers, leading with a serious commitment to an affordable, 100 percent clean renewable energy future in this generation.

To FPL, we say:

It’s time to stop building new climate-polluting power plants, and shift to clean renewable energy resources for good.

It’s time to join 21st-century utilities in committing to a 100 percent carbon-free system and making a plan to get it done by mid-century.

It’s time to protect our communities by investing in solar, storage and weatherization at schools and other critical facilities that serve as emergency shelters across the state.

It’s time to stop disconnecting customers when their lives and health are at stake.

In short, FPL, it’s time to lead.

Yoca Arditi-Rocha is the executive director of the CLEO Institute and Katie Chiles Ottenweller is the Southeast director of Vote Solar. The two nonprofits have intervened in FPL’s rate proceeding on behalf of the thousands of members they represent in Florida.

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