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Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Reform Florida’s outdated energy policies

by: Darren Dixon

One thing all Floridians can agree on is the importance of air conditioning in keeping our homes and our businesses comfortable, safe and secure. We rely on it, and it’s reflected in our power bills: Floridians pay some of the highest electricity bills in the nation. Yet it doesn’t have to be that way.

There’s a straightforward and affordable way to lower energy bills that’s actually quite simple: energy efficiency. I have been an energy efficiency professional in Sarasota for more than 20 years, and I know that using energy smarter is the quickest, cleanest and most cost-effective way to meet our energy needs as a state and as a nation – while also keeping dollars in local communities and driving economic development.

Unfortunately, Florida’s guidelines on energy efficiency haven’t been updated in nearly three decades and we have fallen far behind other states. This is reflected in the weak energy efficiency programs offered to customers by utilities in Florida. For example, a rebate from Florida Power & Light to help families upgrade to a higher-efficiency air conditioning unit has been cut from $1,175 in 2010 to today’s meager standard rebate of $135. 

As the utilities’ programs have been scaled back, so has the investment in making homes and businesses more energy efficient. That’s a dangerous trend, especially when there are so many hard-working families that need greater access to efficiency measures, like air conditioning upgrades, that can improve their homes and lives.

Fortunately, the Florida Public Service Commission – the agency that sets energy savings goals for the state’s largest utilities – is revisiting its practices for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Our state’s current economic screening practices actually create disincentives for utility companies to invest in energy–saving improvements for customers. Over time they have eroded investment in efficiency programs for customers – and they have put Florida near the bottom of state rankings for helping customers cut energy waste and lower their power bills. We can do better for Florida’s families and workers.

The energy efficiency industry is an important part of the workforce; it employs more than 120,000 Floridians. These are local jobs that can’t be outsourced. Greater investment in improving homes and businesses will allow businesses like mine to create more high-paying jobs that drive economic development in the Sarasota area.

Florida must stay on pace with next-generation technologies – for example, I have been able to incorporate technology into my own business by developing an application that allows customers to get their air conditioning systems serviced, repaired or replaced with just a few clicks. If customer behavior and technologies can change, so should our state policies.

We must bring Florida into the 21st century on energy efficiency, and now is our opportunity to weigh in on how the Public Service Commission can adjust the guidelines to update our policies. If this is done, it will lead to lower power bills – and greater economic development and job creation – all across Florida.

Darren Dixon is president of Fyxify, an air conditioning installation company in Sarasota.

Read more here.