- Florida utilities — in particular, NextEra Energy subsidiaries Florida Power & Light (FPL) and Gulf Power — are badly lagging the rest of the nation in commitments to energy efficiency, according to an analysis by the environmental advocacy group the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE).
- In absolute terms, FPL, the largest utility in the state by number of customers, saves less electricity through efficiency measures than other major Florida utilities, despite selling far more electricity, SACE wrote in the latest of a series of blog posts about the group's annual report on energy efficiency in the southeastern U.S.
- The pandemic and recession have led business groups and consumer groups to call for cutbacks in energy efficiency programs to give utility customers temporary bill relief, a position that efficiency advocates have argued is shortsighted.
In 2019, FPL's efficiency programs saved about 54.2 GWh of electricity, about two-thirds of the amount of savings achieved by Duke Energy Florida and less than half of the savings from Tampa Electric Company (TECO), according to SACE. But FPL's annual electricity sales are three times higher than Duke's and six times higher than TECO's.
As a percent of retail sales, FPL's energy efficiency programs saved .05% compared to 0.21% for Duke and 0.66% for TECO. Gulf Power, the primary utility in the panhandle of Florida, had the lowest savings as a percent of retail sales of any Florida utility at 0.04%.
"TECO — just three times larger than Gulf — delivered total savings that were 26 times greater. And TECO's savings as a percent of annual electricity sales were more than 16 times higher than Gulf's," SACE Energy Efficiency Director Forest Bradley-Wright wrote in a blog post. In 2018, Florida as a whole saw energy savings equal to 0.16% of retail sales on average, compared to 0.71% for the national average and 0.31% for the Southeast on average.
SACE's report used 2019 numbers for the Florida utility comparisons because they were available in regulatory filings from earlier this year, while the national and regional comparisons used U.S. Energy Information Administration data from 2018.
In a statement sent to Utility Dive in response to SACE, FPL spokesman Bill Orlove said that the utility complies with annual reductions in energy demand and use as mandated by Florida regulators, but that FPL's low electricity rates diminish the potential gains from more ambitious efficiency improvements.
"Currently, FPL bills are 30% below the national average," the statement said. "Our low cost electricity makes utility-sponsored energy efficiency programs less economically beneficial for customers."
FPL reports that the average FPL monthly bill for a residential household using 1,000 kWh is $101.27, compared to $141.58 nationally and $120.40 for Florida as a whole, based on Edison Electric Institute data. The group represents investor-owned utilities.
But, Bradley-Wright told Utility Dive, looking at rates based on a fixed amount of electricity use is not very useful in this case because Florida residents use so much more electricity on average than Americans in general, in large part due to heavy air conditioning usage for much of the year. So even if on a per-kWh basis, the price of electricity is low, that is not reflected in the impact on customers' wallets. "The reality is that customers in Florida pay above average bills," Bradley-Wright said. "The energy usage in Florida is higher than it should be due to a historic lack of investment into energy efficiency."
For example, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data, over 125 million MWh of electricity were sold to the residential sector in Florida in 2019, more than any other state besides Texas, and more than double the 50 million MWh sold to residents of New York state, which has a roughly similar population to Florida.
A Gulf Power spokeswoman also responded to the group's claims. "We support cost-effective energy conservation programs that benefit all customers regardless of whether they participate," she said. "Empowering our customers to make energy-efficient choices that are right for their home and businesses is a better approach than charging higher rates to pay for rebates and incentives that only a small number of customers use."
COVID-19's economic effects have led to debates about energy efficiency around the country. State-appointed consumer advocates in Ohio and Missouri have argued that energy efficiency funds should be temporarily suspended or diverted to save customers money during the economic crisis, while C&I utility customer groups are urging Rhode Island and Connecticut regulators to temporarily lift energy efficiency surcharges to help businesses pay their bills.
Bradley-Wright said it is not clear if similar proposals to cut efficiency will take place in Florida. But, "in Florida, there is not a history of supporting energy efficiency," he said.