Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced Tuesday morning her office is launching the first-ever statewide study of energy equity.
The examination, conducted under Fried’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Office of Energy, seeks to improve energy equity in Florida, Fried said.
“To help those who need it the most, we need to understand the systemic inequalities, the barriers and disparities and all the factors that keep vulnerable communities trapped in a cycle of energy efficiency and higher energy costs,” Fried said.
Research has shown that low-income, Black and Hispanic families face an energy burden three times higher than other consumers. This is often driven by increased utility costs caused by energy inefficient appliances, insulation and weather.
The office has already issued requests for proposals for researchers, which are due by 5 p.m. July 21.
“I hope many talented researchers step forward and help us solve this complex power struggle,” Fried said. “This has never been done before like this in the state of Florida.”
Fried was joined by former state Rep. Jennifer Webb, a Democrat ousted by Republican Rep. Linda Chaney in last year’s election in House District 69. Webb spoke about her experience in the state Legislature in trying to pass policy related to energy equity.
“When I was in the Legislature, we knew this was a problem we needed to address, and yet the majority party, again and again, stepped aside, pushed these issues aside, focusing solely on one area instead of making sure that we were also addressing this important issue,” Webb said. “Never was it more clear that this was an essential issue than during COVID.”
Webb went on to recall legislative members receiving call after call from families unable to pay utility bills.
“Day after day, hour after hour, our legislative offices across the state were getting pleas from hard-working families — not unable to pay their rent or their mortgage, but unable to pay their utility bills,” Webb said.
When asked how the study would provide concrete solutions, Fried said the state could employ grants and provide information to those in need about energy efficiency. Last year, the Office of Energy launched a $1 million grant program to assist low-income communities with high energy costs.
“This is not something that is red or blue; this is something that is a humanitarian effort,” Fried said. “Hopefully, this first-ever statewide study will go a long way to helping us develop solutions for families and our Floridians who are looking for relief from our high energy bills.”