Will Florida’s precious coastal treasures — undeveloped coastal areas beloved by residents and tourists — be lost by an anti-solar stroke of the Florida Public Service Commission’s pen? It doesn’t look good.
Anyone who believes in more, not fewer, energy choices or local governments’ right to protect their unique areas and lifestyle choices should watch the PSC today. Asserting the commission’s “exclusive jurisdiction” over Florida’s electric grid, PSC staff is urging a commission vote favoring connecting one of the Keys’ few remaining off-grid coastal islands, No Name Key, to the central power grid. But any such grid connection would violate Monroe County laws prohibiting new extensions of utility lines to federally-designated undeveloped coastal barriers. No Name Key is a federally designated unit of the Coastal Barrier Resource System (CBRS) established by Congress and President Ronald Reagan to save taxpayer dollars, protect public safety, buffer built-up areas and protect coastal fish and wildlife.
Monroe County adopted — and the state planning agency approved — local laws to support greener, off-grid, less-dense development of the Keys’ few remaining less-developed coastal barriers. Adopted after years of careful study, these local laws wisely discourage dense development in the CBRS, thus facilitating hurricane evacuation, preserving endangered species and the opportunity to choose an off-grid green lifestyle, and lowering utility costs (off-grid communities needn’t repeatedly replace/repair utility infrastructure damaged by coastal storms and floods).
Relying on local laws prohibiting utility line expansion, people moved to No Name Key, building an off-grid solar community that demonstrates how we can live comfortably without fossil/nuclear energy. This pioneering solar community, with its post-hurricane electric/water self-sufficiency, should be encouraged throughout Florida, but is endangered by a PSC vote that could authorize central-power-grid connection, not just to No Name Key, but to all grid-free parts of the CBRS in Monroe County.
Environmental proponents and land use planners, along with local governments statewide, should be concerned because a PSC vote circumventing Monroe County’s laws simultaneously threatens to limit local power to manage growth.
Nowadays, progress is measured not by connecting undeveloped areas to a central power grid, but by how rapidly clean renewable energy meets our energy needs. We call upon Florida’s PSC to cast a vote supporting — not overriding — Monroe County’s leadership in this area.
Richard Grosso, law professor, Nova Southeast University, Davie and Manley Fuller, president, Florida Wildlife Federation, Tallahassee