Where Florida’s Electricity Comes From, and How It Can Do Better

, senior energy analyst, Clean Energy | February 5, 2015, 4:28 pm EDT
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Florida has been on my mind lately, as storm after storm has piled the snow up outside my door and relatives have called from the Sunshine State to report on the (rather higher) temperatures they’re experiencing. But the state has also been attracting attention with its electric sector moves—some positive, some less so.

When it comes to electricity, the Sunshine State is still far short of living up to its clean energy potential. Here’s how and why decision makers should fix that.

Where Florida stands now

Florida = Heavy on fossil fuels, light on sunshine (Source: EIA)

Florida’s electricity = Heavy on fossils, light on sunshine (Source: EIA)

Florida has about the highest proportion of natural gas electricity generation of any state. More than three-fifths of its electricity is gas-fired—up from 44 percent just eight years ago.

Most of the growth of natural gas generation in Florida has been at the expense of coal and oil generation, two sources that emit a whole lot more carbon (and other) emissions when they’re burned. Still, Florida’s embrace of natural gas has left it strongly dependent on just one fuel (see below), which could spell trouble in terms of both economics and the climate.

The state’s embrace of clean energy has, alas, seemed a lot less inspired, at least when compared to its tremendous potential:

  • Renewable energy (almost all biomass) fuels only a little more than 2% of the electricity the state generates. That penetration level puts it behind 39 other states, and has barely budged over the last 15 years.
  • When it comes to solar, the Sunshine State gets just a tenth of a percent from the sun. It ranks just 13th in installed solar capacity, despite being #3 for overall solar resource.
  • For energy efficiency, Florida ranks way down at #28.
Oil's out, coal's failing, natural gas is coming on strong (Source: EIA)

Oil’s out, coal’s failing, natural gas is coming on strong (Source: EIA)

Recent events have the state investing even more in fossil fuels, and continuing to downplay clean energy in important ways. More natural gas is on deck. And a disappointing decision by the state’s public utility regulators (the PSC) means that rooftop solar and energy efficiency will get a whole lot less support than they deserve.

Where Florida might head

So what could Florida’s electricity mix look like? Florida has lots of opportunities to move in a positive direction, including under the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan. In considering the role that renewable energy could play in cutting power plant emissions in Florida, the EPA has proposed that the state could have non-hydro renewables supplying 8% of its needs by 2030.

Our own analysis found that Florida could do even better—at least 14% by 2030—just by committing to grow renewable energy at the same rate that other states have demonstrated is achievable and affordable.

UCS Power Ahead Florida - renewable energy

And NREL (the National Renewable Energy Lab) has documented the state’s tremendous renewable energy technical potential far beyond those levels: for biomass, but also rooftop PV, utility-scale PV, offshore wind, and other technologies.

Energy efficiency is another clear opportunity for the state. Efficiency instead of new generation would be an easy, cost-effective way to reduce negative impacts from electricity generation in the state, save ratepayers money, and up Florida’s renewable energy portion more quickly.

Experience from leading states suggests that Florida and others could be improving their efficiency by 1.5–2% every year—way above where Florida has been, and way, way above where it’s headed.

Creating a better Florida, energy-wise

The Clean Power Plan is a clear, near-term opportunity to align Florida’s energy goals with its need for safe, reliable, and clean power, and the EPA will finalize its Clean Power Plan this summer.

But Florida officials should get started now by preparing to have a strong implementation plan that prioritizes the deployment of renewables and efficiency (and not even more dependence on natural gas). There’s no reason to delay.

Renewables are already delivering real power to Florida homes and businesses, and has some promising signs. The state is home to the first CSP (concentrating solar power) system in the East. One of the state’s two big utilities has recently announced a plan to build three 75-megawatt solar plants. And now both a grassroots movement and a Florida senate effort are looking to remove barriers to solar adoption by homeowners.

The fact that Florida is highly vulnerable to some key impacts of climate change, such as tidal flooding, is yet another reason for the state to want to be on the forefront of the move to clean energy, and to push for a solid Clean Power Plan from the EPA.

Shine, Sunshine State

Florida needs solid policies that send strong, consistent signals that tell the market that Florida wants more clean energy—like the renewable electricity standards and energy efficiency resources standards in place in more than half the states.

And, if you’re a Floridian, you can help! Tell Governor Scott that you want Florida to be a clean energy leader now.

Florida can do a lot more when it comes to clean energy, and would be well served by upping its game. And soon.

Correction: Florida is behind 39 other states in renewable energy penetration, not 15 as was stated in an earlier version of this post.

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  • bradbergstrom

    You have erred in tacitly assuming that biomass (i.e., burning trees for electricity) is “renewable.” Its carbon exhaust is more than coal, it has much higher PM emissions, and the way it’s done (burning whole trees converted to wood chips) will not result in “renewal” (i.e. net zero carbon) for decades, when newly planted tress finally reach net zero sequestration.

  • Alek Williams

    Thank you for writing an article so detailed about my state of Florida! I have always been disappointed by the states energy supply and I’m happy that others are joining in the fight for more renewables!!

    • ucsjrogers

      You’re welcome, Alek. Florida has so much potential, and it’d be great to see it realizing that potential.

      And people across the political spectrum get that. The ballot initiative I mentioned — Floridians for Solar Choice — is proof of that; it only takes a glance at who’s involved (www.flsolarchoice.org/about/endorsements) to understand the broad appeal that renewable energy, and particularly solar, has.

      So keep at it, and thanks.

      – John