Yesterday, Tampa Electric Company (TECO) announced a plan to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. However, environmentalist groups say the plan, announced with the support of Mayor Jane Castor, will compromise the city’s recent commitment to 100% green energy by 2035.
“[TECO’s] commitment is severely lacking in details, but one thing is for sure—it threatens to take the city backwards on clean energy, without a firm commitment to ending the use of fossil fuels citywide,” said a press release from Food and Water Watch and several other environmentalist groups from the Tampa Bay Climate Alliance.
Earlier this year, the environmentalists celebrated Tampa City Council passing a “Ready for 100” Green Energy resolution, calling for the city to shift to completely renewable energy by 2035. With the new commitment by TECO and Mayor Castor, that goal is potentially pushed back 15 years. Environmental experts say that 2050 is far too late to restrict the use of fossil fuels. Environmentalists say that by then, the earth will be a climate catastrophe-induced hellscape.
At the press conference, TECO said that in order to reach net-zero emissions, it will increase its use of low-carbon technologies, including renewable solar energy. The company says it plans to invest in emerging renewable energy solutions like biofuels, carbon capture and wind turbines. At the conference, it was announced that TECO and the City of Tampa plan to outfit the Tampa Convention Center with solar panels.
TECO President and CEO Archie Collins said during the announcement that the company has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50% since the year 2000, along with reducing reliance on coal by more than 90%.
"We're very, very proud of the progress that the team has made, but the job is not done,” Collins said. He went on to say that while TECO does not have a clear path on exactly on how it’ll achieve a net-zero carbon future, it's a vision that TECO is aspiring to, and that it acknowledges it will be hard to get there.
Green energy advocates say that in addition to TECO’s plan having a slow timeline, that net-zero commitments are a deceptive corporate practice—often referred to as “greenwashing”—which relies on faulty carbon offsets and untested carbon capture technology to distract from the continued burning of polluting fossil fuels.
“With less than a decade left to enact sweeping reforms of our energy grid, TECO’s faulty net-zero commitment is an embarrassment. Business as usual is nowhere near bold enough for the crisis we face,” said Brooke Errett, Food & Water Watch Senior Florida Organizer. “Mayor Castor should know better than to buy greenwashed corporate commitments like this one.”
At the press conference, Mayor Castor said that she was very excited about what she called a “partnership” with TECO.
“All of the questions have not been answered [about TECO’s plan] to this point,” Mayor Castor said. “But here’s my position. If you don’t dream big, if you don’t set that bar high, sometimes appearing to be impossible to attain, you will not be able to achieve greatness.”
Environmentalists from the Tampa Bay Climate Alliance say that the city has all but abdicated responsibility to act boldly on clean energy, and are continuing on calling U.S. Representative Castor to push federal policies that eliminate fossil fuel use nationally. Rep. Castor (who’s not related to Tampa’s mayor) supported the city’s Ready for 100 resolution.
"TECO's Net Zero by 2050 commitment just means the company will pay for carbon offsets or invest in carbon capture technologies as they continue to pollute, with no formal commitments to transition or phase out of fossil fuels,” said Mary-Elizabeth Estrada, Tampa Climate Justice Organizer with the Florida Student Power Network. “We need a just-equitable transition from TECO, not another performative greenwashing commitment to continue business as usual, while our future is at stake."
Rep. Castor’s office has not yet responded to requests for comment from CL. This post will be updated if a response comes in.
Tampa city councilman Joseph Citro had championed the original Ready for 100 resolution with the environmental alliance.
“First, I am excited to see that we will be installing rooftop solar on one of our strongest assets in Downtown Tampa, the Tampa Convention Center,” Citro wrote in an email to CL. “I support more investments in the technology that will get us to our 100% clean energy goal.”
Citro went on to say that as Tampa City Council passed the resolution earlier this year, the council will work through passing ordinances and through their budget priorities towards a transition away from fossil fuels, and will get it done by its 2035 deadline. The councilman said that he also agrees that Tampa needs strong action by Congress to support investments in clean energy.
“We, as cities, cannot do this alone, and we need good partners to rise to the challenge,” Citro said.
A representative from the medical professional nonprofit Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) also weighed in on the subject, condemning the new plan.
Howard Kessler, MD and President of PSR Florida said that the group joins climate scientists and healthcare professionals around the globe in viewing net-zero carbon as “a dangerous trap” that denies the urgency of the climate crisis and net-zero’s inequitable application for low-income communities.
“Shame on TECO and the Mayor of the great City of Tampa for dragging the city into the trap,” Kessler said. “PSR Florida calls on federal policy makers to protect public health and address the climate crisis by promoting 100% clean and renewable energy legislation today.”
While multiple members of Mayor Castor’s administration did not respond to requests for comment about the environmentalist’s claims, TECO did offer a response.
“Achieving this vision will require partnership – with our customers and stakeholders – to improve the planet for our children, and their children,” TECO told CL. “We know our customers care about protecting our planet. By taking action now toward our vision, we can prioritize affordable rates as we make the continued shift to renewable energy sources and other zero or low-carbon, reliable energy-generation technologies.”
Public records show TECO was one of the larger donors to Mayor Castor’s mayoral campaign, thanks to a $15,000 donation to the Tampa Strong PAC on April 18, 2019.
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