April 2007

Message from the Director:
Taking Charge of our Energy Future

I want to share with you some comments I made to our Policy Advisory Board at their meeting at the Center on February 26.  Philip Fairey and I put together a presentation on what needs to be done to secure an energy-efficient and environmentally safe future for Florida.  I thought you would find these comments interesting.

Following the highlights I present here, you can click on the link at the end of the story for a copy of the slides I used, giving much more detail and information.  While I believe most of you reading this share our feelings on the role of energy efficiency and renewable energy in Florida’s future, I think there’s a lot of food-for-thought here that will help you focus some of your own ideas on where we are going and what we ought to be doing.

I welcome your comments and thoughts on my message, including specific ideas on what we at the Florida Solar Energy Center might do to help with this future.

We use a tremendous amount of energy here in Florida.  In fact, we rank fifth nationally in the amount consumed per capita and third in total energy use.  But because of our heavy reliance on fossil fuels imported from outside the state, we spend more than $20 billion annually in fuel payments to other states and nations – money that would generate as much as $40 billion to $60 billion annually in economic activity if these dollars stayed in our own economy.

I think that the best way to keep that money in Florida is to implement a non-fossil-based fuel economy using energy efficiency technologies, our plentiful sun and biomass.  The only way to achieve our vision of an energy-independent Florida is by expansion of rebates for renewable energy generation and creation of new incentives for energy efficiency.  The result will be more Florida jobs and companies born in our state.

ENERGY STAR logoWhen you look at other states and see the incentive programs they offer and the policies they have enacted, you see that we are woefully behind most of them, making the markets for energy efficiency and renewable energy grow in those states instead of Florida.  Adding to this problem is the lack of support for branded programs like ENERGY STAR new homes, where we are also woefully behind many other states.  At a time when we are building more homes every year than any other state, only a little more than one percent of them meet the EPA’s ENERGY STAR program requirements!  Homes meeting that level save money for their owners, reduce energy use and dramatically cut pollution emissions.  The costs of upgrading a home to this level are minimal and pay back that cost in energy savings.  We must educate our citizens, builders, architects, engineers and others about the benefits of programs like this one.

Over half of the state’s energy use is for building energy, giving us the best place to make a difference.  Making our homes more efficient and using renewable energy will make a huge difference in our overall energy use.  Because the least expensive kWh is the one we don’t have to use or produce, the starting point, even before energy generation, is energy efficiency.  A recent study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy on Florida’s energy future found that new homes can cost-effectively achieve almost 40 percent greater efficiency than 2007 code requirements, and existing homes can be cost-effectively improved by more than 30 percent.

photo of side of house with solar water heating on white tile roof and large overhangs
A new home built with energy-efficient features, such as a white tile roof and large overhangs, is an easy way to reduce your energy bill.

The solution to all this is for the state to implement an Energy Efficiency Policy.  This policy needs to provide incentives for new homes that are more efficient than code and incentives for existing homes that are improved by at least 25 percent, with all rebates tied to performance based on the annual kWh or Btu saved as measured in accordance with Florida’s Building Energy Efficiency Act of 1994.

The effects of incentives can be incredible.  Consider photovoltaic costs, for example.  In 2005, the 30-year average cost for a residential PV system on your roof was 32 cents per kWh.  In the 20 states that have Public Benefit Funds, there is a 50 percent buy-down, bringing their average PV costs to just 16 cents/kWh.  Further, renewable energy can be traded by renewable energy aggregators as “green tags” on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in one megawatt-hour (million watt-hours) blocks at a price of about $40 (4 cents per kWh), which would bring that 30-year average cost to 12 cents/kWh.  That’s the same price we are paying here in Florida today for electricity out of the wall. 

Look through the slides below for more ideas on what the state might implement to help all of us save energy.  For example, 40 other states have net metering laws, but we don’t.  We need to increase our interconnection standards, and also establish a Public Benefits Fund to support a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (definitions of these terms are all in the presentation, along with maps of where they are used today).

I think the bottom line of all this is clear.  We can no longer afford a business-as-usual attitude for our energy use in Florida.  We can’t afford it economically, we can’t afford it in terms of available energy resources, and we can’t afford it in terms of the effects on the environment.  And we need to start with things that we can do now!

Yes, I’m sure most of you reading this already agree with what I am saying.  But now you may have some more specific ideas on what can make a difference in your future, in your children’s future, and in the general future of our state and nation.  I really believe that the answer to many of our energy problems lies in our own hands.  We need to start taking more advantage of energy efficiency and renewable energy now – replace your light bulbs with compact fluorescent lights, install a solar water heater on your home, buy only ENERGY STAR appliances and high-efficiency automobiles, ask your Realtor or builder for an ENERGY STAR home.  If we do these things and put our money where our mouth is, it will certainly get the attention of our political leaders – the people who represent us in government.  Let’s all show them the path we need to be on.

Signature of James M. Fenton

For presentation, click here (2.3MB PowerPoint).