Taking Sustainability To The Next Level

Buoyed by constructive state government and a goal of helping customers become more efficient, one company is doing well by doing good.

It is fair to say that Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) is not a company that sets modest goals. Most recently, in June, FPL, along with parent company NextEra Energy, threw down the gauntlet in the utilities industry by announcing a game-changing climate goal: “Real Zero” by 2045. Rather than promising to simply reduce emissions and purchase credits to offset usage, as many companies have done, FPL aims to completely eliminate carbon emissions from its operations. 

It’s a tall order, to be sure, but pushing the envelope is in the company’s DNA, says FPL Chairman and CEO Eric Silagy. “It’s not easy, but we have visibility into how we’re going to get there because of our experience, particularly in migrating off fossil fuels to cleaner fuels, as well as with renewables.” 

Indeed, FPL has set ambitious goals numerous times and managed to achieve them. In 2001, for example, it was the largest consumer of oil in the country. “That year we burned 41 million barrels of oil,” says Silagy. But the company grew uncomfortable with the volatility of oil prices, as well as the fact that they were importing oil from countries who were not allies of the U.S. They began by modernizing or replacing decades-old plants in order to move to natural gas—though not without a challenge. “We had many, many detractors, groups representing industrial customers and retail customers opposed to tearing down the old plants for a variety of reasons,” says Silagy. “But we stayed the course.” 

The result? A 99 percent reduction in oil consumption. “Does that change the world? I don’t know—but it’s $4 billion or $5 billion a year in fuel that we’re no longer sending to countries that aren’t always friendly to us.” 

Plus, the more efficient power plants have allowed the company to pass on some $12 billion in savings to customers. “We’ve been able to generate the same amount of electricity, but using less fuel.” 

In 2019, FPL again made headlines, announcing it would install 30 million solar panels by 2030. “We are five years ahead of schedule,” says Silagy, “and not a single project has been over budget.” 

Now that FPL has gone through this process and made the investments in green technology—including around $7 billion annually for the last six years, all while keeping customers’ bills well below the national average for more than a decade—they are in a position to help other companies figure out how to cut dependency on oil and improve energy efficiency, says Silagy. “We bring to our customers that kind of spirit of innovation and determination, and the track record of being able to figure out how to get there.” 

Being located in a state that boasts a similar can-do spirit has been a big help. “We’ve got a very constructive regulatory environment here,” says Silagy. “Our permitting system is designed to help people get things done. It doesn’t start with ‘No, no and no’—it starts with ‘Wow, that’s hard. Okay, how do we get it done?’” 

Like FPL, Florida has been motivated by economic reasons to focus on environmental issues. With one in eight jobs tied to tourism and 127 million people visiting Florida each year—making it the No. 1 tourist destination in the world—keeping the beaches pristine is critical. “It’s the right thing to do for future generations, but it’s also just really good business,” says Silagy, who notes that the state has worked to make sure that environmental strategies are affordable. “If it’s not affordable, it won’t be politically sustainable.” 

The Sunshine State also offers a slew of other advantages to business, including economies of scale, multilingualism, low corporate taxes, no state income tax, and a higher education system that has been ranked No. 1 in America by U.S. News & World Report for the last five years. And at a time when companies are struggling to attract talent, being able to offer access to mild weather year-round is a bonus, says Silagy. “If you like the outdoors, this is a really great place to live.” 


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