Category Archives: Youth V Gov

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It’s an incredibly exciting day in Florida today and one that’s filled with hope for the future as two historic voyages take important steps in journies that hold the promise to change our world for the better for generations to come. I do hope that you will come along for the ride.

Near 4:30 pm EST this afternoon two brave astronauts plan to blast off into space from Florida soil for the first time in nearly a decade as they depart on a mission to the International Space Station as a first step in America’s quest to travel to Mars. In a historic public/private business partnership with America’s space agency (NASA), Elon Musk’s SpaceX will send two brave astronauts on a scientific mission that holds the promise of mankind’s future dreams of discovery and inspiration.

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And speaking of historic milestones in the making, back here on earth today at 12 pm EST seven brave young friends of mine and I will participate in a webinar along with our lawyers that’s being hosted by The Invading Sea to discuss the constitutional climate change lawsuit we filed in April 2018. In today’s webinar we will talk about the fact that we will finally have our first day in an actual court on June 1st at 1:15 PM when the Honorable Kevin J. Carroll, Circuit Court Judge, considers the state’s Motion to Dismiss our case as well as our response to the State at the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee.

During today’s webinar we will also participate in a Q&A with co-host The Invading Sea, a news and editorial collaborative on climate change. We plan to answer your questions about the constitutional foundation of our case, the experiences my friends and I as plaintiffs have had that led us, a bunch of kids, to file the lawsuit, and what we are asking the court to do and why.

Our core complaint centers on the fact that the State of Florida is violating our constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness, by allowing harm to take place to constitutionally protected, essential public trust resources. I can tell you that we feel more strongly about those allegations today than ever before. My friends and I are desperately afraid that without material action by our government to enforce its laws and protect us that special places that we love (that you love) and cherish all over Florida will be lost forever.

To join today’s webinar please visit: https://bit.ly/2WJm2vC. To learn more about Reynolds v. State of Florida, please visit the Our Children’s Trust website here: https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/florida and to submit any questions you might want addressed during today’s webinar please send them to: erin.barnhart@ourchildrenstrust.org.

Yes, it’s a historic time for science here in Florida. The countdown has begun for America to return to space, including one day visiting Mars, while a countdown focused on protecting our precious environment’s future back here on earth prepares for an important next step. It’s history in the making and the stakes are ultra-high in both cases. I do hope that you will join my friends and I on today’s webinar, as well as for next week’s hearing (stay tuned for the public link so you can watch!) and, until then, wish Godspeed to our brave astronauts and everyone at NASA and SpaceX in support of their mission.

Whether COVID-19 or Climate Change, Trust in Science

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Today, more than ever, science and scientists are the key to our collective futures. Doctors and nurses are heroically saving lives while putting their own lives at risk in the process. Chemists and biologists will soon be saviors when they invent a cure. As we seek expert solutions to the pandemic, it is my hope that the COVID-19 crisis will make clear the profound importance of science and scientists to our society. And when it comes to our climate crisis, respect for science can help us all unite to solve the crisis by better understanding the scientific research that predicts, for example, that coastal communities including South Florida are at risk of extinction from sea level rise.

Consider a new scientific study that illustrates how grave the future is unless society quickly moves away from fossil fuels and embraces sustainable energy everywhere. Researchers from the University of Illinois, University of Hawaii, and the U.S. government studied over 200 tide gauges and concluded that in about 30 years the accelerating speed of sea level rise will cause what are today rare flooding events to become annual occurrences for over 70% of the U.S. coastline, according to the study published in Scientific Reports. And by 2100, flooding currently considered a once in a lifetime event will become a daily high tide occurrence for more than 90% of coastal communities.

These scenarios threaten to cause billions of dollars in damage, along with the very viability of some communities to exist. Major cities such as Honolulu, New Orleans, and yes, Miami, the place I call home, will become increasingly vulnerable to flooding and stronger storms fueled by the global heating caused by human activity. The time is past due to listen to the science and act accordingly.

Thankfully, the world’s youth get it. We are deeply worried about the climate crisis and those concerns permeate political affiliation, race, religion, or economic standing. As we mark the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, consider the diversity of young people profiled in the April National Geographic article Fighting for Their Future, highlighting young climate activists from Rwanda, Nepal, Sweden, Canada, England, and including myself from Miami. We embrace the science and want to see our governments quickly lead us into a sustainable future before it’s too late for places we love like No Name Key, Miami, and the Everglades that are at risk of being forever lost due to our fossil fuel use.

And that’s why, in April 2018, seven of my friends and I filed a lawsuit, Reynolds v. State of Florida, against the State of Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, the Florida Department of Agriculture Agriculture and Commissioner Nikki Fried, the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund and the Public Service Commission.

We believe to our core that Floridians have a constitutional right to a stable climate system and that the state government is actively contributing to our climate catastrophe by supporting an antiquated energy system based on fossil fuels. They are demonstrating a deliberate indifference to our fundamental rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. In doing so, they are violating the Florida Constitution.

We are asking the judiciary to order the government to protect our constitutional rights and create a climate recovery plan to transition Florida’s energy system to one based on clean energy solutions before it’s too late. We believe that when government actions infringe on our constitutional rights, then we must look to the judiciary for protection.

Like the amazing scientists responsible for keeping us safe during the COVID-19 crisis, our legal system should protect our constitutional rights. And just as our scientists will solve the pandemic, it is my hope that at our first hearing, now scheduled for June 1, that Florida’s court system will protect our constitutional rights to a stable climate before it’s too late.

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.”