FPL’s parent company should issue annual reports on sea-level rise

A woman walks her bicycle along a flooded Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. Flooding has become more common in the area due, in part, to sea level rise.
A woman walks her bicycle along a flooded Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. Flooding has become more common in the area due, in part, to sea level rise. AP

As the devastating facts of climate change pile up — severe droughts, extreme flooding, species migration through warming and rising oceans — the question arises: What will change corporate behavior?

My wife and I decided we needed to act. This year, we filed a shareholder proposal to our power company, NextEra Energy, which owns Florida Power & Light. Our proposal deals with the inevitable risks from sea-level rise.

Our shareholder proposal is simple. We are asking that the company issue annual reports to shareholders on the risk from sea-level rise, under a range of scenarios, according to the best available science. By issuing the report to shareholders, the public and government officials will also be able to review the information. Although the resolution we have proposed is nonbinding, it sends a clear signal: NextEra needs to tell shareholders what it knows about the risk from sea-level rise.

As residents of Miami, our city is often cited among the world’s most vulnerable areas to rising seas. We already are seeing the results: hotter weather, extreme rainfall events and high tides that have pushed some municipalities, like Miami Beach, to make $500 million in sewer improvements. In Miami-Dade County alone, fortifying infrastructure is a multibillion-dollar concern, yet the supplier of our electricity is silent.

Florida Power & Light is NextEra’s largest subsidiary. It provides electricity for 4.8 million ratepayers along Florida’s east coast, which makes the company and its shareholders extraordinarily vulnerable to the financial disruptions of climate change. The United Nations climate panel projects three feet of sea-level rise; however, scientists behind a new study published in the journal Nature conclude that levels could actually rise almost twice as much as previously predicted by the end of this century.

Here, the economy is largely dependent on real estate development at the shoreline. Most of South Florida is scarcely a few feet above sea level and is home to one of the nation’s oldest nuclear facilities: Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point.

At the same time, Florida Power & Light is waging an extraordinarily costly effort to win the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval of two new nuclear plants next to the aging ones at Turkey Point.

Sadly, yet unsurprisingly, the company opposes our proposal. It first tried to block its approval when the Securities and Exchange Commission was reviewing our submission. Now, NextEra claims that shareholders do not need to be concerned with the rising sea and is calling the proposal a “waste of time and money.”

Management seems to be saying: We like making our money the old-fashioned way. We’ll change, when the circumstances warrant. By that time, it will be too late for many of us who live in Florida. And shareholders across the country will also suffer the consequences.

NextEra executives may be able to afford to pick up and leave for higher ground, but what happens to the rest of us?

Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades.