More than 20 groups join forces in quest for clean energy

11/13/13 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: clean energy, solar, coal, nuclear, Duke Energy, Sierra Club


More than 100 environmental activists crowded Williams Park in downtown St. Pete across the street from the Duke Energy Florida headquarters.

photo by Janelle Irwin

More than 20 groups have joined forces to encourage Duke Energy to invest in renewable energy sources like solar instead of dirty coal. During a kick off rally Wednesday in downtown St. Pete across from Duke’s Florida headquarters, more than 100 residents demanded that the energy giant close its Crystal River coal plant by 2016. Kelly Martin is the senior campaign director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal program.

“We also know that the Crystal River coal plant is one that is ripe for retirement. It’s a coal plant that should come off line and it should come off line by 2016 because it’s the largest source of mercury pollution in Florida. It is exceeding federal air quality standards for sulfur dioxide which causes respiratory problems.”

Martin puts some blame with the Florida legislature for not being solar-friendly. Other states offer incentives to businesses and individuals for installing solar. She said Duke Energy has enough influence in politics to be able to set an example.

“Duke Energy has nearly 6,000 megawatts of renewable energy installed in the country and they have not quite one megawatt of solar power installed in Florida. So, that’s a huge discrepancy between the solar power that Duke is installing elsewhere and what they’re doing here in the Sunshine State.”

Brooksville activist Rosemarie Grubba agreed the Sunshine State needs to catch up.

“Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, South Dakota, New Jersey, California, what do they all have in common? They are all converting to clean energy sources. What does Florida have? We have more sun, we have more water, and we have more wind -- so why aren’t we a clean energy state?”

One of the groups supporting the clean energy efforts across the state is made up of doctors. Lynn Ringenberg is the local chapter president of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Environmentalists claim dirty energy lends to respiratory problems, especially in young children, the elderly and pregnant women. But Ringenberg takes that one step further, arguing pollution could also contribute to higher incidents of things like autism and behavioral problems.

“It does it in a number of ways. Some [are] internal ingestion of the chemicals that are in the water, the air pollutants – the particulate matter that comes out of the smoke stacks. So that’s how it affects children, breathing it in their lungs – adults as well. It causes inflammation … it affects the heart, the central nervous system, the lungs.”

Shifting toward renewable energy sources includes more than just solar. There are also opportunities to use wind and water to generate electricity. Rick Smith, chief of staff for the SEIU Florida Public Service Union, said energy companies should provide those choices to customers to not just be environmentally conscious, but to reduce rates.

“You can go to the grocery store today and choose from 150 kinds of cereal. You can turn on your TV and you can choose from 300 channels to watch. But when it comes to clean water and air and a planet that can sustain life, these guys – the Duke Energies of the world – would have you choosing from very limited options and it goes like this: you can have jobs, but not a healthy environment; you can keep your lights on and your air conditioning running, but only on our terms and at our prices.”

Supporters of renewable energy want to shift away from fossil fuels in general. The Florida Consumer Action Network is getting behind the push too. Political director Tim Heberlein said expanding renewable energy would be an all-around victory for the Florida.

“When we invest in renewable energy as part of a comprehensive change to our state and our country’s energy portfolio, we create high tech jobs, we promote policies that strengthen our national security, we create new vehicles for investment and economic growth, we promote the well-being of our natural resources and we create real, long lasting energy independence.”

The Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition is focusing on statewide expansion of renewable energy, but local governments can do their part too. St. Pete City Council member-elect Darden Rice, who is supporting the coalition, made some environmental issues key talking points throughout her campaign.

“What remains for us as a city and as a region as the next step is to develop real goals to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and to work on clean air and to actually follow through with it. Doing so requires a whole new mindset. It requires innovation, political will, courage, creativity and innovation to meet a stronger performance in energy and environmental governance as well as meeting strong environmental performance in land use, buildings, transportation, water, waste and air quality.”

The group circulated a petition to people at the rally and some passers by that asks Duke Energy to start investing in clean, local energy. Signed petitions will be delivered to the CEO of Duke Energy, Lynn Good.

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This kind of organizing is exactly what we need more of in Florida. Keeping this kind of activity up is how we're going to see real Progressive change in Florida.

This is so empowering to see, for both residents and businesses. Can't wait to watch the Sunshine State harness the power of its own namesake asset!