Category Archives: Dick Jacobs

An OPEN Conversation On Climate Change

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If you are in the Tampa, St. Petersburg or Sarasota region, I hope that you will consider joining me this Saturday, September 14th, at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus for its OPEN (Open Partnership Education Network) Conference where I am honored to be giving a key note lecture that starts at 1:00 pm and will be followed by a panel discussion that includes myself; esteemed attorney, Dick Jacobs; my fellow plaintiff, Valholly Frank and the City of St. Petersburg’s Sustainability Coordinator, Alexandria Hancock.

OPEN and USFSP have entitled the talk Why is a wave of youth advocates using the law to take action against climate change? and I am looking forward to discussing my climate change journey, my work to increase sustainable energy solutions here in The Sunshine State and why seven Floridian children and I are suing our state, Governor and others to demand they take aggressive action to protect our climate. I hope you can join us and be part of the discussion as we search for solutions to our climate crisis.

I am particularly excited that this event is in St. Petersburg. It’s not only one of the most beautiful cities in Florida, but like South Florida, where I live, it’s also one of the most fragile. That’s why I was so encouraged in August and September of 2017 when the City of St. Pete so passionately embraced my suggestion that it enact a solar power mandate like the historic law that I worked to have implemented in South Miami. Political pressures got in the way of a law being implemented in St. Pete at that time, but it remains my hope that the “Sunshine City”, as it’s called, will consider the idea again soon.

The reason that such local laws, much less our ongoing lawsuit, are so important is because we are running out of time.

Expert scientists tell us that we have about 12 years to have an impact on our warming climate before we reach the point of no return where the damage will cost places like St. Pete and Miami dearly.

And the annual reports from Florida’s utilities tell us why we can’t rely on our “friendly” local power company to solve the problem for us. Consider that my local power company, Florida Power & Light, obtained about 1% of its energy from sustainable solutions like solar power last year. And that’s after nearly 100 years of business in a place called “The Sunshine State”.

To learn more about how hard Florida’s utilities are fighting to protect their businesses and keep us from widely implementing solar power, I hope you will read the July New York Times article entitled Florida’s Utilities Keep Homeowners From Making the Most of Solar Power included at the end of this blog.

Here’s the good news: there is HOPE. Experts predict that 50% of Florida’s energy needs can be supplied by solar power by 2045 if we just start taking the topic seriously and demand that our governments and political leaders implement and enforce the laws that are needed to make that happen. I hope you will join me in helping make that happen and discussing all of this and much more on Saturday in St. Petersburg.

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To learn more about the OPEN Conference please click here and to learn about this Saturday’s event please click here.

Florida’s Utilities Keep Homeowners From Making the Most of Solar Power

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Florida calls itself the Sunshine State. But when it comes to the use of solar power, it trails 19 states, including not-so-sunny Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Maryland.

Solar experts and environmentalists blame the state’s utilities.

The utilities have hindered potential rivals seeking to offer residential solar power. They have spent tens of millions of dollars on lobbying, ad campaigns and political contributions. And when homeowners purchase solar equipment, the utilities have delayed connecting the systems for months.

Solar energy is widely considered an essential part of addressing climate change by weaning the electric grid from fossil fuels. California, a clean energy trendsetter, last year became the first state to require solar power for all new homes.

But many utilities across the country have fought homeowners’ efforts to install solar panels. The industry’s trade organization, the Edison Electric Institute, has warned that the technology threatens the foundation of the power companies’ business.

In Florida, utilities make money on virtually all aspects of the electricity system — producing the power, transmitting it, selling it and delivering it. And critics say the companies have much at stake in preserving that control.

“I’ve had electric utility executives say with a straight face that we can’t have solar power in Florida because we have so many cloudy days,” said Representative Kathy Castor, a Democrat from the Tampa area. “I have watched as other states have surpassed us. I think that is largely because of the political influence of the investor-owned utilities.”

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The state’s utilities have been expanding their own production of solar power. But Florida is one of eight states that prohibit the sale of solar electricity directly to consumers unless the provider is a utility. There is also a state rule, enforced by the utilities, requiring expensive insurance policies for big solar arrays on houses.

In 2009, a measure to require a certain amount of energy to be generated from renewable sources passed the State Senate but died in the House of Representatives when the utilities fought it. Solar proponents have been unable to find legislative traction for similar measures since then.

Mayor Rick Kriseman of St. Petersburg — the site of Duke Energy’s Florida headquarters — has argued for changing the way utilities are regulated so they would embrace more energy efficiency, residential solar power and energy storage. The companies essentially see the solar-equipped homeowner as a competitor, not a customer, he said.

“If your profits are based on consumption, where’s your incentive to reduce electricity use?” Mr. Kriseman said.

Art Graham, chairman of the Florida Public Service Commission, which regulates Duke, Florida Power & Light and other investor-owned utilities, said simple economics was one reason the state had lagged in adopting renewable energy sources. Because Florida has kept electricity rates lower than those in the Northeast and California, he said, the cost savings for homeowners in switching to solar power are more limited.

But there are other obstacles. Timothy Nathan Shields is still stunned by the resistance he faced from Duke, the state’s second-largest utility, when he wanted to put solar panels on his home.

Mr. Shields, a 57-year-old retired nurse, wanted a system to cover the electricity needs of his 2,000-square-foot house in Largo, north of St. Petersburg, as well as the cost of charging his electric car. So a year ago he bought a setup twice the size of the average rooftop system from Sunrun, the leading residential solar company.

First, Mr. Shields said, a Duke representative told him that he would not benefit much from solar power because “it rains.” Then the utility told him that it wouldn’t save him any money. After he made a commitment to buy the system, Duke told him that it needed to be insured, citing its size and saying it could “harm the electric grid.”

So he bought a $1 million insurance policy costing $200 a year.

“It’s absurd,” said Brad Heavner, policy director for the California Solar and Storage Association, a trade group. “There’s no way you can justify that based on studies of the risk. I would call that an outrageous solar requirement.” He said he was not aware of such a rule in other states.

Sunrun installed Mr. Shields’s system in days. But Duke took two months to turn it on, forcing him to continue to pay electric bills of as much as $310 a month. He will pay $240 a month for the system for the next six years, when it will be paid off, plus a monthly fee of $11.57 to Duke for a grid connection.

“Every time I turned around, they would drag their feet,” Mr. Shields said. “They want you to think it’s hard and horrible and difficult.”

Randy Wheeless, a Duke spokesman, said that he regretted Mr. Shields’s experience, but that the company was simply following state requirements for larger home systems. The utility has been reducing connection times and adding as many as 750 rooftop solar customers a month, he said.

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From the state’s perspective, Mr. Graham, the chief regulator, said, “I think we definitely could do some things differently” — like revising the policy that will cost Mr. Shields as much as $6,000 in insurance premiums over the life of his system, potentially more than 30 years.

The experience of homeowners like Mr. Shields has largely been shaped by the utilities’ political spending.

From 2014 through the end of May, Florida’s four largest investor-owned utilities together spent more than $57 million on campaign contributions, according to an analysis by Integrity Florida, a nonprofit research organization, and the Energy and Policy Institute, a watchdog group. FPL, the state’s largest utility, accounted for $31 million of that total.

The utilities also hired enough lobbyists to have one for every two lawmakers in Tallahassee. From 2014 through 2017, the four companies spent $6 million on lobbying, Integrity Florida reported.

Sunrun broke through one of the barriers to rooftop solar last year when it won approval to lease solar panels to homeowners, a step subsequently taken by Vivint Solar and Tesla. But regulators stopped short of allowing solar companies to own the panels and simply sell the power directly to consumers, as they can in at least 27 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

“There’s no solar competition happening,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group.

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When it comes to the expansion of the utilities’ own solar arrays, Florida’s growth rate led the nation in the first quarter, and the state is positioned to hold that ranking for the next six years, according to the energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Still, solar energy accounted for only 1 percent of electricity generation in Florida last year, far less than the 19 percent in California and nearly 11 percent in Vermont and Massachusetts, the association said. The state relies largely on natural gas, and several utilities get as much as a quarter of their power from coal.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Ron DeSantis defended the state’s clean energy efforts, saying in an email, “Florida’s renewable energy industry is growing rapidly.”

But solar advocates, rather than the utilities, have been the primary drivers for change at the consumer level.

An unlikely grass-roots coalition has emerged in Florida in the last five years to promote solar power — residential in particular — as environmentalists from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Sierra Club joined with groups like the Tea Party and the Christian Coalition.

While the groups’ rationales for joining the effort varied from environmental protection to a libertarian view of energy freedom, the issue united them against the utilities, which backed a ballot measure in 2016 to impose more fees on solar users and keep solar companies other than utilities out of the state.

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Although the utilities spent more than $20 million on the campaign, the measure was defeated. And the next year, the grass-roots effort persuaded lawmakers to exempt up to 80 percent of the value of solar installations from property taxes. It seemed a great victory for consumers — but the utilities also benefited, because it eased their tax burden on dozens or even hundreds of acres of solar farms.

“I would say that none of Florida’s utilities are enthusiastic about their customers’ deploying solar,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “I am not surprised at the horror stories.”

FPL points to its role in a particular bet on a solar future: Babcock Ranch, developed near Fort Myers by a company that extols it as the nation’s first sustainable town. The power company built a solar farm that largely supplies the town’s energy needs.

FPL announced four similarly sized projects in April, and Duke says it is also building farms that size.

“FPL has been working for many years to advance solar energy while keeping customer bills low,” said Mark Bubriski, a company spokesman. The utility said it plans to add enough solar capacity to power about 1.5 million homes and provide 20 percent of its total generation by 2030.

During legislative hearings in Tallahassee, Syd Kitson, the developer of Babcock Ranch, which will include 20,000 homes when fully developed, proposed building a town that could showcase the benefits of solar power.

“I’m an environmentalist who is a developer,” Mr. Kitson said. “It is the Sunshine State, so it made a lot of sense to us.”

But solar proponents feel the utilities need to be pushed further.

Scott McIntyre, chief executive of Solar Energy Management, a statewide leader in commercial solar power based in St. Petersburg, said the gains the state appeared to be making were little more than a facade.

“Florida is not going to do any type of energy policy that benefits consumers, not for a long time,” Mr. McIntyre said. “They just keep making the hurdles higher and higher.”

Why I’m Suing the State of Florida & Governor Rick Scott

On Monday April 16th I sued Florida Governor Rick Scott and the State of Florida (click here to read the lawsuit) along with seven brave children from all over the state to demand that the promises made to us in the Florida Constitution and The Public Trust Doctrine be kept and that our Public Trust Resources including our atmosphere and waters be protected from man-made carbon dioxide pollution caused by fossil fuels. Here are some of the reasons why I feel that we have a moral obligation to try and change things before it’s too late and, therefore, why I’ve sued our State and Governor.

I am the fourth generation of my family to live in South Florida and was born here in Miami. I love the state of Florida and its incredible diversity including the vibrancy and natural beauty of Miami and Miami Beach, the serenity of places like Matheson Hammock, and natural wonders such as the Florida Keys, our state’s amazing coral reefs and, of course, the Everglades, the only habitat of its kind on earth.

But I am deeply worried about Florida’s future. The carbon dioxide that is being pumped into our atmosphere and oceans from petroleum products made from fossil fuels place parts of Florida that I cherish at the very real risk of disappearing.

Of becoming extinct.

Of being lost.

Forever.

And those concerns, along with our State leaders total disregard for what is already happening, much less the threats that we face in the future, is part of the reason that I am suing our Governor and State of Florida.  Our climate change crisis is the biggest issue that my generation will ever face and it’s up to us, today’s children, to fix this problem. It is my hope that the court will rule to require that Florida enact and enforce laws to reduce and eliminate carbon emissions so that our state and citizens can have a future here.

I cherish my family home on No Name Key in the Florida Keys in Monroe County, an island that’s in the National Key Deer Refuge and the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. No Name Key is filled with amazing, magical, creatures like the tiny Key Deer who make their home there but in a County whose average elevation above sea level is less than 6 feet, I wonder and worry about whether the Florida Keys, and my home, the deer and their habitat will survive a future where seas are projected to rise between at least two and six feet, or more, unless we take action now.

But when I wrote to the State of Florida’s Department of Environmental Resources to ask what they are doing about our climate change crisis and my sea level rise concerns and our overall region their response upsets and scares me. Here’s what they wrote in response:

To Delaney Reynolds; 

Unfortunately the response to both of these questions is “Not much”. The Governor has not supported climate related legislation and as a result not much is getting done at the State level. 

Sr. Administrator / Department of Environmental Resources, 

State of Florida

That response, the state’s “not much” response, is unacceptable and is another reason why I am suing Governor Scott and the State of Florida.

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This is me at 2 years of age at Matheson Hammock Beach. Unless we take action now, future generations will not be able to enjoy this special place like I did. 

And speaking of special places, Matheson Hammock is a wonderful public park that’s a short walk from my Miami home. It has an incredible path that winds its way through miles of mangrove forests as well as a marina and beach with a salt water swimming hole that overlooks downtown Miami and the ocean beyond. It’s a place that generations of South Floridians have enjoyed, a place where I learned to swim and where my father before me did too.

But it breaks my heart to see sea level rise covering the park’s paths, roads and beaches more each year and to know that someday soon, unless the State of Florida takes action to protect us, Matheson Hammock and places all over Florida like it will forever disappear. And that’s a tragedy that we cannot tolerate and yet another reason why I am suing the Governor and State.

Communities large and small all over Florida are already being forced to take action to address our climate crisis and when it comes to sea level rise, South Florida is literally ground zero for what’s happening here in the United States. Billions of dollars of real estate, as well as the tax revenue that goes with it is at risk.  Millions of people face the very real risk of being forced from our region and becoming climate change refugees. Much of our environment is literally at risk of extinction and yet our state’s political leaders avoid and deny the reality that our citizens increasingly face and leave it to locals to try and address this enormous issue. Examples include:

1. Miami Beach is spending nearly half a billion dollars to begin addressing the flooding from sea level rise that already consumes their community.

2. Last year City of Miami voters passed the Miami Forever Bond including $200 million towards sea level rise mitigation. Of course they did, flooding from seal rise has become a way of life here.

3. The City of South Miami passed a historic solar power law last year, the first of its type in Florida, a law that I proudly played a role in conceiving and helped to write, that requires residential solar power as a step to reduce carbon emissions.

4. Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach Counties have banded together to create the South Florida Climate Change Compact because of the dire risks that our entire region faces.

In each of these cases concerned citizens and local leaders have come to realize that we must take action if South Florida is to have a chance to have a future. And yet, Florida’s Governor mocks us by denying that human caused climate change and sea level rise is an issue by saying that he has no view on these topics because, as he likes to say, he’s “not a scientist”.

Well, most of the people in our region are not scientists, but they do have eyes and can see that the water and temperature are rising, and that climate change is already affecting their ability to live a happy life here.  The science and facts related to human induced climate change and sea level rise are indisputable and you do not need to be a scientist to see this and, thus, another reason I am suing is to help those communities, and the people who live in them, all over Florida that are desperately fighting our climate crisis without help from the Governor or State of Florida.

And I am suing the State and Governor on behalf of those who can’t but will be highly impacted by this growing catastrophe including:

1. Our natural environment and the unique habitats and creatures that will be lost or displaced without action. Take, for example, a place that’s hidden from most people’s view, our underwater environment including the Florida Reef Track, a 360-mile-long ancient coral reef that runs from the St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County to the Dry Tortugas National Park, West of the Florida Keys. It’s the third largest reef in the world and home to millions of marine animals but it IS at risk of extinction from ocean acidification caused by man-made carbon dioxide from fossil fuels.  Why would any of us allow that to happen?

2. Millions of people who face a future where they are at risk of becoming climate refuges unless we take action. People who will be forced to move from places they love and, in many cases, where their forefathers have lived for generations.

3. And people whose health will be severely impacted, especially the youngest and oldest in our society, as temperatures continue to climb.

4. And people too young to speak out today, as well as those not yet born but who have the undeniable right to enjoy a safe, clean, natural environment. A right that the State and our Governor are stealing from all of us by not taking action before it’s too late.

The good news is that there are solutions and the sooner we begin widely implementing them the better chance we have to save Florida and the less costly it will be to fix the problem. The bad news is that the State of Florida and our Governor have done little to nothing to begin solving the problem and that’s another reason why I am suing.

For example, experts predict that solar power can produce HALF of Florida’s energy needs by the time I’m 45 years or so old if our State would just become serious about sustainable energy and stop playing politics by protecting the established, polluting power companies.  My local power company in Miami, Florida Power & Light, has been in business for nearly 100 years in a place nicknamed ‘The Sunshine State” yet produces less than half of 1% of its power from solar. Now that makes NO sense.

For a Governor who likes to campaign for office by touting job creation it also makes no sense that he’s not embraced growing solar power for Florida. Experts predict that transitioning Florida to a renewable energy system would create over 300,000 good, well paying, long term jobs.

And, of course, let’s not forget that widely expanding solar power everywhere will save consumers a LOT of money while also helping save our environment.

So, while the Governor and State of Florida appear dedicated to the polluting ways of the past, I am hoping that our future will be filled with sustainable power and that The Sunshine State will become THE Solar State.

Allow me to end by sharing how much I enjoyed Ms. Hamann’s Civics & History class in 8th Grade.  Not only was she incredibly engaging, entertaining and nice, but I learned many important lessons from her about the three branches of our government:

1. The Executive branch where our Governor and his Cabinet are located,

2. The Legislative branch where Representatives and Senators serve,

3. And the Judicial branch where our state’s legal system operates to help protect us.

I am suing the State and our Governor because the Executive and Legislative branches have miserably failed to protect us and our environment from the climate change crisis. They have failed to honor their legal duties in the Florida Constitution and The Public Trust Doctrine by not protecting our Public Trust Resources and it is my hope that the Court will:

1. Affirm that our atmosphere is a Public Trust Resource,

2. Rule that the State has a fiduciary responsibility to protect our atmosphere, waters, land, marine resources, beaches and other Public Trust Resources from waste,

3. Affirm that the State has breached its responsibility to reduce Florida’s carbon emissions,

4. Rule that the State be forced to prepare and implement a remediation plan, and

5. Require the State to create the laws necessary to enact that plan so as to reduce Florida’s carbon emissions to safe levels that are based on scientific facts

As stewards of our state I believe that we have a moral obligation to solve our climate crisis and it is my hope that our legal system will help me draw a line in the sand so as to stop the damage and begin implementing solutions while Florida’s beaches still have sand on them.

Before it’s too late.

I want to end this blog post by congratulating my co-Plaintiffs, the seven children that are standing with me to fight our Governor and the State. Thanks to Levi, Isaac, Luxha, Andres, Oscar, Oliver and Valholly.  You are brave and passionate beyond words and I know that I speak for countless people when I say how grateful I am for your commitment and passion to helping me solve our climate change crisis.

I also want to end by thanking our exceptional legal team, our attorneys, as well as the incredible team at Our Children’s Trust for all your help.  On behalf of all the children, and the generations that will come after us, thanks to Guy Burns, Andrea Rodgers, Meg Ward, Caitlin Howard, Dick Jacobs, Mitchell Chester, Sandy D’Alemberte, Wally Pope, Jane West, Erin Deady, Deb Swim, and Matthew Schultz.

To learn more about the lawsuit and the organization helping Florida’s children seek justice, please visit Our Children’s Trust by clicking here or Youth V. Gov by clicking here.

Generation Delta

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I am friends with a remarkable man by the name of Dick Jacobs. Dick has traveled the world many times over and publishes a wonderful blog by the name of The Global Naturalist about his travels and thoughts that I highly suggest. Those of you who are long time readers of my blog might recognize Dick’s name as a Guest Blogger here in the past and, in addition to having an amazing perspective on the important topics of our time, Dick is also one of the nicest people that I’ve ever met.

He has become a trusted mentor and is a passionate supporter of my work and concerns. He possess more energy and ideas than just about anyone I know and given my respect for him, I was humbled this weekend when he asked me if he could re-publish my recent blog Step Aside, It’s Our Turn to Fix What’s Wrong. As humbled as I was that Dick would ask that question, I was and am equally humbled that so many of his readers took the time to respond and post a comment of their own. One of those comments, just below, led me to write today’s blog:

I immediately thought of our grandkids, Rebecca 15 and Will 17 and sent a copy of Delaney’s blog to my daughter, Jennifer, their mom. She responded, “That is beautifully written. Thanks for sharing. This generation is a force! I think I read last year a proposal to call these (basically) post-911 kids Generation Delta, as in the mathematical symbol for change. They have an entirely different view on what is possible. I do really, really hope they can fix all this mess we’re leaving for them!” Also, thanks Dick for mentoring and sharing with these young people. Donna

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I’ve never heard the term Generation Delta but I have to say that I very much like it given that it symbolizes change. And while I’d not heard of it in context for my generation I have heard it with regards to my studies in math (I love calculus) and science so the idea of putting those two fields together with my generation’s zeal to change things makes great sense to me. I sure hope that Generation Delta catches on and that we are already on our way to making the changes our world needs.

As if one needed an example of why it’s so important for my generation to step up and make the changes that our society needs rather than rely on some of the adults who are or have been in charge, you need to only read former two time Presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s comments related to the recent Parkland Shooting in response to young people subsequently calling for sensible gun laws following that tragedy. Mr. Rick Santorum, in all of his multi-decades long ‘adult’ wisdom had the audacity to recently suggest that rather than demand change to our gun laws kids should take a CPR class to be prepared to help people the next time their friends or family are shot.

How About kids instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that when there is a violent shooter that you can actually respond to that.”

Former Pennsylvania Senator and two-time Presidential candidate (2012 and 2016) Rick Santorum

Wait.

What?

CPR classes?

Seriously?

In over a month of often insensitive, ignorant statements by ‘adult leaders’ from the White House to just about every corner of America, his comment just might be the worst of them all. How insulting to those who died, those who lived and are forever impacted, much less the rest of us who care to not see this bloodshed continue. I am waiting for the NRA to claim his comment was their idea like ISIS claims one terror attack after another. His comments are along the same line of thinking that leads a President to hold up a sign announcing ‘TRUMP Digs Coal’ or to not follow the rest of the world into a sustainable future by supporting the Paris Accord or by looking to relax pollution laws that car makers, oil companies and other carbon polluters whose products are raising sea levels in ways that will destroy much of South Florida.

But Mr. Santorum’s comments are also wonderful in a weird way as they, yet again, paint a vivid picture of why our country so desperately needs transformational change and why my generation, Generation Delta if you will, is well equipped to be the Agents of Change to make that happen. Whether the topics are guns, our climate crisis, gender equality, race relations or one of the many other important issues that need our attention the time has come for Generation Delta to take control and force change.

So, thanks Dick, Jennifer and Donna for sharing that name and idea with me. Here’s to hoping it catches on as my generation continues to rise up and fix what’s wrong all around us.

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