Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried, center, speaks during a press conference with youth climate leaders Valholly Frank, left, and Delaney Reynolds, right , on Thursday, April 21, 2022, at the Phillip & Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Miami. Fried unveils a proposed rule requiring utilities operating in the state to generate 100% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2050.

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Florida utilities would phase in their electricity to 100% renewable by 2050 under a proposed rule unveiled Thursday by the state’s agriculture commissioner.

The proposed rule is the result of a long court battle involving dozens of young people who claim Florida is violating their constitutional rights by continuing to promote the use of fossil fuels that drive climate change. Similar lawsuits have been filed in other states.

The rule announced by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic candidate for governor this year, follows pressure from young people represented by the non-profit organization Our Children’s Trust who filed a petition calling for the proposal. It’s the first of this magnitude in Florida, which is particularly vulnerable to climate impacts such as coastal flooding, stronger hurricanes and excessive heat.

The rule is not final and could face several challenges, and even after that, the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services would primarily be able to track compliance, not apply it. Still, Fried said it was “a monumental first step” in reducing the climate-altering greenhouse gases that come from utilities when they burn coal and natural gas.

“It’s one of the most pressing issues of our time,” Fried said at a press conference in Miami. “We cannot afford to deny this reality and the urgency of what is happening to our state.”

According to the proposal, Florida utilities should first meet three interim goals for the energy they supply, 40% by 2030, 63% by 2035, and 82% by 2040. later, in 2050, the rule calls for 100% renewable energy. energy for public services. Energy experts agree that interim targets are important so that major changes are not postponed even further into the future.

According to the federal Energy Information Administration, only about 5% of Florida’s electricity in 2020 was generated by sources such as solar, compared to 75% by natural gas, which is mostly methane.

The rule petition has been signed by more than 200 young people, including 22-year-old Delaney Reynolds. She said at the press conference Thursday that the rule is a start to tackle one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions at power plants.

“Today, Florida can begin to address the root causes of climate change,” Reynolds said. “We do not have time to lose.”

The state’s largest electric utility, Florida Power & Light, and its parent company NextEra Energy Inc., said in a statement that they are already investing heavily in solar power with 50 centers in operation and plan to quadruple the capacity by 2031. Indeed, Florida has progressed little by little in the national ranking of installed solar.

“As Florida’s renewable energy leader and the leader of the nation’s largest solar expansion, we will continue to work with state leaders to smartly move Florida with even more cost-effective renewable energy,” the FPL statement read. .

Another major utility, Duke Energy, said in an email that it was still reviewing the proposed rule, but noted that it plans to have no coal-fired power plants by 2035. 2050.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services headed by Fried also houses the state’s office of energy. The agency will collect public comment on the proposed rule for 21 days; there is also the possibility of a hearing and possibly a challenge before an administrative law judge.

Even if the rule goes into effect, the agency has no mechanism to enforce it. But it can collect annual data on the progress made by public services. It would be up to the Florida Public Service Commission to take any regulatory action related to the rule.

Valholly Frank, a 19-year-old Seminole tribesman from Florida, said their traditional home on the Big Cypress reservation adjacent to the Everglades faced extreme threats from climate change.

“Our culture really depends on this land,” Frank said. “Florida can’t exist the way it is now. We can’t go on like this.”

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