Utilities are no longer the biggest polluter of greenhouse gases in Florida. Guess who it is.

Among the many surprising findings of a landmark study of Florida’s greenhouse gas emissions is that electric power companies are no longer the state’s largest air polluters, although they rank second.

Research by the Florida Climate Institute — a collaboration of 10 Florida universities, four of which worked on the inventory — says transportation now emits the most greenhouse gases: 42.2 percent of the state’s total, compared with 40 .3% of electric companies.

Rosemary O’Hara [ Provided ]

It’s surprising because in 2005, the last year studied, electric companies topped the pack, their smokestacks famously emitting carbon dioxide — a climate change accelerant — into the atmosphere. But by 2018, the latest year for which data is available, Florida’s utilities had reduced emissions by 19%, the research shows, while tailpipe emissions increased by 12%.

Florida’s power companies deserve recognition for reducing carbon emissions in response to market demands. Still, energy and transportation generate 82.5 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, research shows. Even electric company executives will tell you there is much more to be done.

Another surprise is that per capita emissions have declined, despite the growth of Florida’s economy. It happened in large part because power plants have become more efficient. So they have light fixtures, windows, air conditioners, and washers and dryers.

It’s also a surprise to learn that, on balance, Florida’s greenhouse gas emissions have remained flat over the past 14 years. During that time the state’s population grew from 18 million to more than 21 million. But with the planet poised to warm by 2 and perhaps 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100, maintaining stability isn’t good enough. Reducing emissions is essential to bending the curve.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the report’s seemingly feasible roadmap for how Florida could achieve net-zero emissions by 2040 and eliminate them completely by 2050. The path would require measurable changes in transportation, power generation, agriculture, in industry and waste. And it would require incoming state policymakers to take the lead in curbing climate change.

It is clear that in transport the future is electric vehicles, not internal combustion engines. Automakers like Jaguar and General Motors have announced they will produce all-electric vehicles by 2035. And more and more 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 pace, the Florida legislature should consider incentives to offset costly investments and set and meet goals for building EV infrastructure.

To meet the energy goal, the authors say Florida must generate all electricity from renewable sources — mostly solar, more nuclear — by 2035. That’s not a far-fetched goal. Florida Power & Light, which powers more than half the state, already promises to reach “true zero” by 2045. While earlier would be better, FPL offers the kind of detailed plan other municipal and investor-owned utilities should provide .

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But here’s the rub. FPL says its plan will cover 1 percent of Florida’s land mass with solar panels. That’s a lot of land. The institute’s report reveals another option: using roofs on a large scale. He says half of Florida’s residential energy needs — and a third of its commercial energy needs — could be met by installing solar on existing rooftops. It’s the biggest way to reduce your carbon footprint.

To offset the expense, the authors recommend that Florida allow power purchase agreements, in which a third-party developer installs, owns, and operates an energy system on someone’s rooftop, and the customer agrees to purchase the output for 15- 25 years old. Such agreements allow developers to benefit from investment opportunities and homeowners use a clean energy system that they otherwise could not afford. PPAs operate in other states, but Florida electric companies have successfully fought their adoption here.

Other states also offer incentives for energy-efficient appliances and other upgrades, knowing that a clean energy future begins with conserving energy and reducing demand. Florida, however, ranks last for efficiency programs. Once again, the power companies are resisting him.

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 a number of states regularly conduct such inventories, Florida last did so in 2008, looking at data from 2005.

The 16 members of the research team are from the University of Florida, Florida International University, the University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida. His work was partly financed by the Volo Foundation and by the Environmental Defense Fund.

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 job. We have to speed things up.

The Federal Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 is a real game changer, with its nearly $200 billion stimulus package to boost solar, wind, energy storage and energy efficiency.

But more is needed at the state level. A good starting point would be to create a state energy policy. It should include a goal for 100% pollution-free electricity, meaningful energy savings targets and programs, a timeline for electric vehicle infrastructure, and regular monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions.

The pace of climate change does not let us waste time.

Rosemary O’Hara is the editor of The Invading Sea, a collaboration of Florida’s editorial boards, including the Tampa Bay Times, focused on the threats posed by global warming. Previously, she was an editorial page editor for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The invading sea it also received financial support from EDF.

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