Among the many surprising findings from a benchmark study of Florida’s greenhouse gas emissions is that power companies are no longer the state’s biggest air polluters, though they are a close second.
Research from the Florida Climate Institute — a collaboration of 10 Florida universities, four of which worked on the census — says transportation now emits the most greenhouse gases: 42.2 percent of the state’s total, compared with 40.3 percent for electricity companies.
It’s surprising because in 2005, the last year studied, power companies topped the total, their smokestacks notoriously spewing carbon dioxide — an accelerator of climate change — into the atmosphere. But by 2018, the latest year for which data is available, Florida utilities had cut emissions by 19 percent, the study shows, while tailpipe emissions rose by 12 percent.
Florida’s electric utilities deserve credit for reducing carbon emissions in response to market demands. But energy and transportation produce 82.5 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, the survey shows. Even power company executives will tell you a lot more needs to be done.
It is also surprising that overall, Florida’s greenhouse gas emissions have remained stable over the past 14 years. During this period, the state’s population grew from 18 million to 21 million. But with the planet warming by 2 and possibly 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100, holding steady is not good enough. Reducing emissions is necessary to bend the curve.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the report’s seemingly doable roadmap for how Florida could reach net-zero emissions by 2040 and eliminate them entirely by 2050. The path would require measurable changes in transportation, energy production, agriculture, industry and waste. And it would require incoming policymakers to take the lead in curbing climate change.
It is clear that in transportation, the future is electric vehicles, not internal combustion engines. Automakers like Jaguar and General Motors have announced they will produce only electric vehicles by 2035. And increasingly, Florida cities and businesses are ordering all-electric fleets. But while Floridians have embraced electric vehicles, the per capita number remains below the national average. To keep up, the Florida Legislature should consider incentives to offset expensive investments and set and meet goals for building EV infrastructure.
To meet the energy goal, the authors say Florida needs to generate all of its electricity from renewable sources—mostly solar, plus nuclear—by 2035. It’s not a distant goal. Florida Power & Light, which supplies more than half the state, is already pledging to reach “true zero” by 2045. While sooner would be better, FPL offers the kind of detailed plan that other companies should. investor-owned utilities and municipal enterprises.
But here’s the rub. FPL says its plan will cover 1 percent of Florida’s land with solar panels. That’s a lot of land. The institute’s report reveals another option: large-scale roof use. He says half of Florida’s residential energy needs — and a third of its commercial energy needs — could be met by putting solar on existing rooftops. It is the biggest way to reduce carbon emissions.
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To offset the expense, the authors recommend Florida allow power purchase agreements, in which a third-party developer installs, owns and operates an energy system on someone’s roof, and the customer agrees to buy the output for 15 to 25 years.
The Climate Institute’s “Getting to Neutral” report represents a milestone in Florida’s climate history because it provides a baseline of our carbon footprint. While some states regularly conduct such censuses, Florida last did so in 2008, looking at 2005 data.
A final surprise is how much market forces—consumers, investors, and rating agencies—have pushed companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But Florida is eager for the market to do the work. We need to speed things up.
The federal Inflation Act of 2022 is a real game-changer, with its nearly $200 billion package of incentives to boost solar, wind, energy storage and energy efficiency.
But more is needed at the state level. A good place to start would be creating a state energy policy. It should include a target for 100% pollution-free electricity, meaningful energy saving targets and programmes, a timetable for electric vehicle infrastructure and regular monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions.
The pace of climate change gives us no time to waste.
Rosemary O’Hara is editor of The Invading Sea, a collaboration of Florida editorial boards focused on the threats posed by a warming climate. She was previously a page editor for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The Sea of Invasion has also received financial support from EDF.