On November 13, 2013 more than twenty business, faith, labor, consumer, public health, and environmental organizations in Florida launched the Sierra Club-led Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition to advocate for Florida’s largest utility companies to invest in clean, local solar energy. More than 120 members and supporters of the new coalition rallied outside Duke Energy’s Florida headquarters to call on the company, now the largest utility in America, to invest in Florida’s economy and future by choosing local energy solutions over imported, polluting energy sources like coal and natural gas.
The new coalition aims to engage as many Duke Energy customers and stakeholders as possible during the next several months. St. Petersburg City Council Member-Elect Darden Rice joined Rick Smith, chief of staff of SEIU, and Tim Heberlein, political director with Florida Consumer Action Network, in calling for clean energy jobs in Florida.
Tim Heberlein told the crowd, "By refusing to increase investment into renewable energy technologies like solar, wind, and geothermal, utilities like Duke Energy are denying investors access to domestic technology and manufacturing markets.
This resistance to economic growth means that the United States is lagging behind countries like China, Germany and Norway in the new energy economy. When we invest in renewable energy as part of a comprehensive change to our state and our countries portfolio, we create new high-tech jobs, we promote policies that strengthen national security, we develop new vehicles for investment and economic growth, we promote the well-being of our natural resources, and we create REAL, long-lasting energy independence."
Smith said, “The issue of clean energy from renewable sources is not just a matter for environmentalists but of the greatest concern for all working people. The future of our children and our children's children is at stake. We refuse to compromise either the economic or the environmental health of our communities."
Speaking to ralliers as a faith leader and a person concerned about the moral implications of climate disruption, Reverend Andy Bell, executive director of Sunshine State Interfaith Power & Light, said, "At our core, we are moral beings. As such we have to ask the moral questions such as, ‘Is it moral to continue to spew carbon and toxins into the air, Earth, and water that sustains us by burning coal when we have clean, healthy technologies like solar photovoltaic that spew nothing but electricity?’ We call on the leaders of Duke Energy to not only answer but act on the highest moral grounds.”
Duke Energy operates four coal-burning units at its Crystal River power plant in Citrus County, Florida. In recent filings to state regulators, the company has committed to phasing out coal burning at the plant by 2020, but currently plans to increase natural gas use at the plant instead.
Rosemarie Grubba, a Hernando County resident, spoke to rally attendees about her activisim to close the Crystal River plant, saying “Now is the moment for Duke Energy to commit to leading the way to the future. This is the time to embrace clean and sustainable sources of energy in Florida and show America that there is a way beyond the pollution of petrochemicals!"
By delaying its plans to phase out burning coal at the Crystal River plant, Duke Energy is choosing to produce four more years of air pollution, including toxic mercury pollution, which will impact children, seniors, and people living with asthma and other respiratory illness.
"Pollution from coal-fired power plants affect all major body organ systems in a negative way and contribute to four of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the United States: heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic lower respiratory diseases, like asthma. And sadly, children are the most susceptible members of our society to the detrimental effects of toxic coal pollutants. We must protect their health and quality of life through a cleaner, more sustainable energy future,” said Lynn Ringenberg, M.D., Chapter President, Physicians for Social Responsibility.
The rally served to send a strong message to Duke Energy: it’s time to invest in Florida’s economy and people by choosing our homegrown energy resources over obsolete, expensive and dirty imported fuels. It’s time for the Sunshine State to see real investment in solar energy that will create jobs and clean up our air.
For video, print and radio coverage of the rally, please see the following links:
Tampa Bays 10 News (WTSP):
topstories/article/344517/250/ Activists-heat-up-solar- energy-debate-against-Duke
Tampa Bay Times:
archives/2013/11/13/ protesters-urge-duke-energy- to-invest-in-solar-energy#. UoPwWfnktb6
com/darden-rice-joins-duke- energy-protest-calls-for-city- to-measure-its-carbon- footprint