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CONVERSATIONS: For 15 years Florida statutes required clean energy goals. Fried explains why they were implemented this week

Orlando is among fewer than a dozen local governments across Florida to commit to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Photo by Amy Green
Orlando is among fewer than a dozen local governments across Florida to commit to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Photo by Amy Green

Florida has a new plan for moving toward cleaner energy. As we’ve been reporting this week, that’s thanks to some 200 young people who pushed state leaders and especially Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried to take action.

WMFE environmental reporter Amy Green spoke with Fried about why she’s implementing the plan now, even though state statutes have mandated it for some 15 years. 

FRIED: When I first got into office, I had put out a 72-page plan that laid out where we have to go in the state of Florida. And for the last three legislative sessions, we've been taking bits and pieces from this plan, trying to work with the Legislature to actually implement these changes.

But I was making sure that we were trying to go through the legislative process first. And when I saw that we were not able to get Republican buy-in for some of the changes that we wanted to do, we were using the existing authority from FDACS to set these guidelines.

And I think it's really important that people understand that these are guidelines. And unfortunately the Department of Agriculture doesn't have the power to enforce them.

GREEN: Right. And so it will be up to the Public Service Commission to enforce the goals. But again, your department oversees Florida's Office of Energy. What else can your department do? Or what can you as commissioner do to enhance accountability for Florida's monopoly utilities on clean energy?

FRIED: Well, I think that that's what's really important here, that with these new rules that each electric utility in the state has to annually now report -- this is what I do have power over -- to annually report the renewable energy that they produce or actually purchase. And quite honestly this data has never been collected here in the state of Florida.

And we know that knowledge is power. So once we start getting this information, we can then move forward to even show more strength in statutes. And the Public Service Commission will start enforcing these rules, once they start seeing this information from the utilities, companies.

GREEN: A recent survey commissioned by NPR found that more Floridians favor policies in line with DeSantis' focus on resilience projects, or policies aimed at protecting against future extreme weather events. And that's compared with policies like what we're talking about, that would slow climate change by reducing carbon emissions.

Commissioner, you of course, have supported legislation aimed at enhancing renewable energy use in the state. Why do you think this legislation hasn't had much traction in the Legislature? And why do you think more Floridians don't support these kinds of policies?

FRIED: You know, I think that the reason why it wasn't supported by the Legislature is unfortunately partisan politics. And unfortunately partisan politics gets in the way a lot of times of good issues, and things that we should be working together bipartisan. And it's unfortunate.

The issues that we've been presenting in the Legislature for the last few years, including our 72-page plan and our 30-page plan that we sent up to the Biden administration to be working together. And so it's great to see that the bill that got passed this week, to reduce inflation, also spends a significant amount of money on the climate resiliency and the climate crisis, and to create a climate rescue plan, which is what we've been working on.

And I think that unfortunately right now most people in our state, in our country, have other issues that are their priority -- affordability, education system, these God-awful culture wars that have been created by the DeSantis administration.

But it's up to us leaders to recognize that this things have to get done. We have to rise above the partisan politics and make sure that we're doing what is right for our future of our state, future of our next generation.

Florida is ground zero, and if we don't start working on these issues today -- they should have been worked on over the last 20 years -- but if we don't start today, we really are in a dire situation moving forward.

Amy Green covered the environment for WMFE until 2023. Her work included the 2020 podcast DRAINED.