Thursday, June 26, 2014

Miami Herald OPED: Government talks a green living game but doesn’t play it … by gimleteye

In a Miami Herald OPED, Carlos Ruiz writes on the failure of government to support its rhetoric in favor of sustainable development. The key point isn't revealed until the end of the editorial: how government's failure links up to Florida Power and Light.

If the Miami Herald had been more honest, the paper would have titled the editorial: "Government and FPL talk a green game but don't play it".

"What would be the economic impact on FPL if we made our older buildings 30%-50% more energy efficient?" Mr. Ruiz writes. "How would FPL and Miami-Dade County fare if all new buildings were 60%-75% more energy efficient, completely energy neutral or off the grid?"

Here is what would happen: if suddenly we conserved that much energy, FPL's profit model would collapse in South Florida and so would the pay packages of its key executives who are compensated based on profits. (Also, FPL's plan for two new nuclear reactors at sea level, costing $26 billion, would dissolve because demand projections -- on which the new nuclear reactors are based -- would no longer be valid.)

You don't have to be a rocket scientist -- or nuclear engineer -- to understand that energy conservation is critical to addressing climate change impacts. There is a direct correlation to savings on your energy bill and carbon emission reductions. Use less energy, pollute less. Build smarter, save the planet.

What is so frustrating and maddening is that there is a way to fix the FPL problem: it is called, government action. Every aspect of the energy business is highly regulated by government. There is no free market when it comes to electricity. Yet the utilities are the biggest obstacles to government action because they have "captured" government and like things exactly as they are. Yes, they fiddle at the edges with massive solar arrays and wind mills.

What Floridians need to support is changing the rules of the game. The only way to do that is to vote for state elected officials willing to take on the electric utilities. And why not? Change the system of profit-making for FPL and other electric utilities. If that were to happen, count on key executives figuring out a way to make as much money as they do, today. So what is the obstacle? Selfishness. And that selfishness includes the mainstream media's unwillingness to connect the dots and educate its audiences.

The existential threat is not to FPL executives or employees (although that is exactly what they say in the press): it is to us. If ours is a government of the people, make government work for us and not just top shareholders of electric utilities.

There is the answer to Mr. Ruiz' dilemma. The changes being forced on civilization by climate change exceed by any measure the changes government could impose on the energy sector. Do we have the guts to save ourselves? Does the Miami Herald have the guts to say it?

Government talks a green living game but doesn’t play it
Miami Herald OPED
Written by Carlos Ruiz on June 25, 2014

For years I tried to convince builders and developers to build green housing in Miami-Dade County with no success. Being realtor, architect and former Gables Green Task Force chair, I believed there was demand for green homes.

I took the challenge and built the first two Green Homes in Little Gables. Going through this journey gave me new insight into why green living has not taken root in South Florida.

While elected officials express support for green or sustainable living, there is little political will, interest, commitment or follow-through.

In 2005 Miami-Dade County passed an ordinance to expedite the review and approval of building permit applications for green buildings “to promote environmentally sensitive design and construction.” The ordinance is nebulous and does not go far enough to make a difference. Most people at building and zoning don’t even know it exists; many make it more difficult for those trying break out of the mold.

When in the fall of 2012 I started the permitting process for my new green homes, the building plan processors didn’t even have a stamp that said Green Building – EXPEDITE. So my documents were stamped Government Project – EXPEDITE.

Even after a green building stamp became available, there was no computer entry field for green building – the houses were classified as Government Project.

While that classification alerted processors to expedite the review, it created unnecessary reviews not required for residential projects. Some departments did not believe the ordinance applied to them so they refused to expedite, and during construction no one even tried to make the process easier to help us finish early. I didn’t save any time and actually took longer than a conventional house with no expediting.

Green homes cost 5%-10% more than conventional homes. There are no government subsidies for developers or time savings as a result of this ordinance to offset the added cost.

Consumers do not know the benefits of green homes and therefore are not willing to pay the additional costs associated with green homes. Most buyers are not focused on quality and operating costs – they want bigger homes for less price that cost more to operate.

Those factors combined discourage developers from taking a risk building more energy-efficient homes in South Florida.

The two green homes I built, if built as conventional homes, would spend $200-$300 per month on electricity – my first month of normal operation as a home resulted in $52.77. With today’s technologies and materials it is possible to build new buildings that are 60%-75% more energy efficient and remodel old buildings to become 30%-50% more energy efficient – I know because I have done both and have the data to prove it.

What would be the economic impact on FPL if we made our older buildings 30%-50% more energy efficient? How would FPL and Miami-Dade County fare if all new buildings were 60%-75% more energy efficient, completely energy neutral or off the grid?

We now have the technology to disconnect buildings from the power grid and even water and sewer. The impact to utilities and other monopolies could be devastating if it occurred too quickly.

Don’t wait for your elected officials to lead you into a sustainable lifestyle. Since those who pay to keep them in office are going to be negatively impacted, politicians are not going to make energy conservation and alternative energy their priority. It is up to you to research and use your financial means to encourage other developers and builders to build more green homes in South Florida.

You are welcome to see the two green homes I build in Little Gables. Learn more about this new type of housing that saves money and natural resources while providing you a healthier environment and better quality of life.

The Writer

Carlos Ruiz is an architect, past president of Miami AIA, first chair of Coral Gables Green Task Force, a realtor with EWM, developer of green homes and recipient of 2012 Green Leader Award from the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce.


Anonymous said...

May be instead of waiting and hoping that government will shoe horn the industry in the right direction, it could be the industry or business assuming this role out of self interest.

In Switzerland and I believe Germany as an example, Banks will not loan any building project unless the plans show to comply with supper energy efficiency. And why is that? I have seen wonder full architectural glass houses, single family, built in the energy cheap 1980es. It was pointed out to me, the owners are not able to afford the heating bills now a days, plus they are unable to sell the money pits, no takers!
The banks have taken notice some time ago and do not want to be burdened with unsellable white elephants.
However energy upgrades of older non efficient structures is encouraged and loans are available readily.

At this time the average energy consumption per capita over there is minimum 6'000 Kilowatt a day. In the USA its around 10'000 Kilowatt a day. There are efforts under way to return to a "2'000 Kilowatt society" of the past, like around 1960, retaining all the comforts of today and non of the deprivations of the past.

Watching the direction of environmental awareness and resolve in Europe and in the USA is an exercise in frustration over here.

Anonymous said...

Above should read 2 Kilowatt Society or 2000 Watt.
Today's use is 6 Kilowatt and 10 Kilowatt respectively.

Youbetcha' said...

I never understood why all those wonderful roof tops on condos and buildings are sitting as wasted opportunities.

Anonymous said...

Jeez ... now you're dreaming about getting rid of capitalism!! What are you smoking??

Anonymous said...

FPL spokesperson Ramon Ferrer would not tell me, S Miami Commissioner Bob Welsh what the yearly kilowatt hour consumption of the houses in the Secofee area of Coconut Grove were so I could calculate the yearly kilowatt hour / square foot electrical consumption of houses that were shaded by a total oak tree canopy, and then compare that to the yearly kilowatt hour / square foot electrical consumption of houses that were not shaded. In my opinion FPL wants to keep us in the dark about everything !