Miami-Dade has a plan to slash its carbon emissions in half by 2030 and to zero by 2050 — sort of.
The county’s new Climate Action Strategy, released during a Wednesday morning press conference at PortMiami, calls for a massive expansion of solar power, increased use of electric cars and public transit, protecting the county’s green spaces and converting waste into energy.
It’s still not enough. All those actions still leave a 30% gap between Miami-Dade and its 2030 goal.
And yet, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava promised the county will figure it out before the end of the decade.
“That is not we’ll try, that’s a definite,” she said. “We know the challenges are dramatic, but we have to get there.”
Levine Cava, along with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, is headed to Glasgow, Scotland this week for COP 26, the United Nations climate change conference where global powers will unveil their commitments to curb emissions around the globe. Both will be representing how local governments can play a role in lowering emissions so that the world can avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
“It’s up to all of us to bring that vision to light,” she said.
The lion’s share of emissions in Miami-Dade are related to transportation, and air travel makes up about a quarter of all emissions in the county.
That’s because the location where a plane fuels up gets credited with 100% of the emissions from that fuel, said Miami-Dade County Chief Resilience Officer Jim Murley. And that fuel releases a tremendous amount of emissions.
The county strategy calls for cutting air travel emissions in half in the next nine years. But there’s a problem: the technology to have planes run on renewable energy (or even low carbon fuel) isn’t there yet.
One solution the county proposed is a new “visual guidance docking system” that cuts down on aircraft idling, as well as talking to the airlines to see how they can be slightly more efficient. But there’s no clear path forward for the county alone to cut down on air emissions.
“In all honesty we don’t have all these answers,” Murley said. “We fully expect that the transportation entities are changing. Airplanes could change their fuel mix. That’s within the realm of our 30-year projection.”
At the port, where the county plans on a 25% emissions cut by 2030, the main improvement will be the soon-to-be-installed shore power hookups, which allow cruise ships to plug into the grid rather than burn dirty fuels when they’re docked. Miami-Dade plans to have shore power capability in place at five cruise terminals by 2023.
“We’ll be seeing progress every single day at this port once we install the shore power,” Levine Cava said.
Other transportation-related items include converting the county’s bus, car and truck fleet to electric vehicles. Miami-Dade aims to convert 80% of light vehicles and 50% of buses by 2030. The plan also calls for deploying those first electric buses to serve “disadvantaged communities” as a way to redress historic inequality.
Miami-Dade’s commitment to cutting emissions, along with similar commitments by Miami, Miami Beach and the Miami-Dade School Board, all rely to some extent on more renewable energy.
About 27% of county power comes from renewable sources, and by installing about 850,000 KW of solar (enough to power 110,000 homes for a year), the county could get that number up to 37% by 2030. Installing that solar is the single most impactful action on the county’s entire list of solutions.
Miami-Dade can’t necessarily force commercial and residential buildings to install solar, but it can incentivize it with tax cuts, encouraging the use of solar co-ops and partnership with new finance options for low-income residents.
Switching any more of that energy blend to renewables is in the hands of the utility that serves all of South Florida — Florida Power & Light.
“While there is a great amount of utility-scale solar coming online, Florida is still heavily reliant on fossil gas and those plants are likely to be around for decades,” said Susan Glickman, director of Florida Clinicians for Climate Action.
The utility has made no commitment to reaching 100% clean energy at any point, and its latest plans only call for it to reach 40% renewable energy by 2030.
“It’s incredibly important for municipalities to be setting these goals even though they’re limited in how much they can do to achieve them because of the total monopoly that utilities have set up,” said Alissa Jean Schafer, a research and communications specialist at the Energy and Policy Institute.
She said Florida Power & Light is the only investor-owned utility that doesn’t have a goal to reduce its absolute carbon emissions.
In a recent deposition, FPL CEO Eric Silagy was pressed on why the company doesn’t have a carbon emission goal, even though its parent company Nextera Energy has one. He replied that Nextera’s goals do not impact FPL’s investment decisions.
Miami-Dade is FPL’s biggest customer in the state. But the county maintains the best way for it to throw its weight around is to collaborate with the utility to install more solar, not to ask for less natural gas, which makes up about 70% of the energy blend for Miami-Dade currently.
“It’s not like we aren’t always engaged with FPL. They’re a huge presence in our county with all their investment, their assets,” Murley said. “We have to work with them. The way that our system works in this state, and I think the best way to approach that will be to engage and work together with them.”
If Miami-Dade isn’t able to convince the utility to move faster toward renewable energy, new federal policies or executive orders might do the job.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order calling for 100% carbon-free energy by 2035, and announced in April that the U.S. will slash emissions by up to 52% by 2030.
The Biden administration has been working with legislators to pass a climate bill that would reward fossil fuel providers for switching to clean energy, as well as tax credits for switching to electric cars and expand the use of solar and wind energy.