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Orlando energy summit seeks reduced utility costs for low-income homes

Orlando Sentinel

By Kevin Spear

This article originally appeared in the Orlando Sentinel.

A close-up shot of a gloved hand checking an electric meter.
The Energy Equity Summit by Sierra Club and other energy environmentalists Thursday, Feb. 23, will probe disparity in energy bills for households and the transition from fossil fuels to clean sources of electricity. The event will be at UCF's downtown Orlando campus. (George Skene / Orlando Sentinel)

Sierra Club members and other energy environmentalists will hold a daylong summit in Orlando on Thursday to build support for reducing utility bill burdens for low-income households.

The Sierra Club will be joined in the summit at the University of Central Florida’s downtown Orlando campus by groups such as the Cleo Institute, Catalyst Miami and Florida Clinicians for Climate Action.

Speakers will include Chris Castro, former sustainability director for the city of Orlando and now chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of State and Community Energy Programs.

Also speaking is Jeff Benavides, former chief sustainability and resilience officer for Orange County government and now IDEAS For Us board president.

The program will be opened by longtime clean energy advocate Susan Glickman of Florida Clinicians for Climate Action.

“The summit will pair stories from impacted communities with the knowledge of experts to empower attendees,” said Raquel Fernandez, Sierra’s Beyond Coal Lead Organizer in Central Florida.

Sierra Club’s Florida chapter commissioned a study that underscores how people of low incomes face greater relative burdens of electricity and natural gas costs than residents with higher incomes.

The study reports that the national average for energy burden in 2019 was 4.1 percent of household income.

In Orlando, the five percent of households that are most burdened with energy costs spent 9.2 percent of their incomes on power bills, while the five percent of households with the lowest energy burden paid 1.8 percent of household income.

Communities with the highest energy burdens are concentrated in Orlando and Orange County to the west of Interstate 4, according to data visualization in the study.

Across Orange County in 2013, the number of households burdened with high and severely high energy burden was 229,561 out of 413,727 total households.

By 2019, the number of energy burdened households had dropped by more than 21,000 to 207,955 out of a total of 457,892 households in Orange County.

The report attributes the drop in energy burdened homes during that period to household incomes climbing faster than utilities costs.

“Energy burden is concerning not only because of the financial strains it produces alone, but also because it is connected to and may exacerbate other inequities,” states the report, which was prepared late last year by Greenlink Analytics Inc.

Other discussions will cover: “fossil fuel legacy and future in Orlando;” coal ash concerns from the Orlando Utilities Commission coal plants in east Orange County; utility spending on conservation and efficiency; and opposing OUC’s plan to convert a coal power plant to run on natural gas.

Members of Sierra and other environmental groups often have focused on Orlando’s municipal utility as locally governed and owning the coal plants and several other generators at the large Stanton Energy Center.

The utility responded Tuesday that its transition away from fossil fuels to solar and other clean energy by 2050 “introduces both challenges and opportunities.”

OUC has said it will achieve “net zero” pollution emissions by that date, which means continuing to utiliize some fossil fuel but offsetting their emissions through a clean-energy or pollution-reducing application.

OUC also has said it will have to rely on natural gas during the transition to solar energy because storage of energy for use at night and cloudy weather requires technology that is “costly and supply chain issues persist.”

Sierra and OUC have been at odds over the appropriate level of utility help for customers wanting to reduce power bills through conservation and efficiency. “We remain committed to a $30 million investment in customer-sided energy efficiency and conservation efforts through 2030,” OUC said in a statement Tuesday.

The summit from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday will be in UCF’s downtown Orlando campus at 500 W. Livingston St. An RSVP link and more details are at:



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