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St. Pete congresswoman is a clean energy champion

Mark Parker

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U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor addresses attendees at the American Council on Renewable Energy's Annual Awards Gala. Photos provided.

A national nonprofit recently awarded U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor for her “critical efforts to redefine the nation’s climate agenda,” something she pledged to continue as St. Petersburg’s voice in Washington, D.C.

The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) named Castor its 2023 Renewable Energy Champion Wednesday. She received the award during the organization’s annual gala at Washington Union Station.

Following the ceremony, Castor called the recognition “particularly meaningful” as it coincided with “the most environmentally important Congress” in the nation’s history. She noted federal legislators passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and CHIPS and Science Act last year.

“So, there were a lot of people working to get a lot of climate legislation across the finish line,” Castor said. “I really accepted the award on behalf of my entire team, who worked with me at the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.”

Castor – who now represents Tampa, downtown St. Petersburg and other parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties – was selected to chair the committee in 2018. Members authored the Solving the Climate Crisis report, which features a comprehensive list of policy recommendations.

Over 300 of the report’s proposals became law through the three pieces of legislation. She said the Select Committee’s focus was developing clean energy and environmental resilience policies that create high-paying jobs and support communities.

Castor relayed that people can now save up to $7,500 on a new or $4,000 on a used electric vehicle through the IRA. She also pledged that public transportation, school buses and postal trucks would switch to electric motors in the coming years.

In addition, she said expanding solar projects would provide cheaper energy.

“That means cleaner air and a cleaner Tampa Bay,” Castor added. “Awards are nice, but really seeing the benefits and cost savings on the ground – that’s what is particularly gratifying.”

Castor chaired the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, and over 300 of its recommendations became law.

Local impacts

The area is home to several solar energy-based small businesses that Castor said are primed for expansion. While she believes state leadership and utility monopolies keep residents tied to natural gas, which results in ongoing price spikes, Castor said the IRA empowers people at the local level.

She explained that residents, nonprofits, municipalities and county governments could save money by adding solar panels. Homeowners can also receive rebates for weatherizing their homes, which she said cut costs and pollution simultaneously.

“The world’s top scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says that we have a rapidly closing window to act to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis,” Castor said. “So, we have no time to lose.

“I feel an enormous responsibility to my neighbors across the Tampa Bay area, especially St. Pete, because it’s very vulnerable.”

Castor said she often looks down when flying in and out of the area and wonders what would happen if a “monster hurricane” like last year’s Ian struck Tampa Bay. She noted that the recently passed legislation bolsters resiliency in addition to infrastructure.

She mentioned St. Pete’s issues with wastewater controls “that yuck up the bay” and wants to help ensure downpours don’t result in stormwater runoff polluting local waterways. Castor said stakeholders must also strengthen shorelines, and while it “isn’t very sexy,” upgrade building and energy codes.

She added that federal incentives would support those initiatives.

“We need housing, but make sure you build it in the right areas and in the right way,” Castor said. “You have the (University of South Florida) College of Marine Science that has all these fantastic researchers that know how to do it – I think St. Pete is going to benefit, in particular.”

She said the IRA provides significant tax incentives, rebates and discounts to lower renewable energy costs. However, she expressed that Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Company (TECO), and Florida Power & Light (FPL) “have a stranglehold on the Florida Legislature.”

The companies are top campaign contributors, Castor said, and receive “sweetheart” deals. She added that most governors set clean energy goals and push utilities to support that mission, while Florida’s leadership has allowed electric companies to “put the kibosh” on neighborhoods hoping to share solar resources.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, right, talks with St. Petersburg City Council members Lisset Hanewicz and Ed Montanari at Thrive DTSP. Photo by Mark Parker.

Despite those sentiments, Castor said she is working with local leaders to ensure they know about new opportunities to increase clean energy production. She said solar panels on an expansive East Tampa community center could save taxpayers $1 million.

Castor also recently met with St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch and city administrators to brainstorm how to pass cost savings to taxpayers. For example, she said residents needing a new air conditioner or heat pump could save thousands by installing energy-efficient models.

“So, a lot of these things are just getting going,” Castor said. “And I hope I can bring my expertise and enthusiasm to help make the Tampa area and St. Pete a leader.”

 

 

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Peter Betzer

    March 10, 2023at4:29 pm

    How exciting to have an enlighten and representative working so effectively on our behalf!!

  2. Avatar

    John Donovan

    March 10, 2023at4:56 pm

    St Petersburg has another congresswoman, who covers a lot more of St Petereburg, and is a champion of various Constitutional freedoms among other issues. I’m looking forward to your non-partisan story about her.

  3. Avatar

    Rita Sewell

    March 10, 2023at5:17 pm

    https://www.congress.gov/member/anna-paulina-luna/L000596. Here you go. This is her Congressional Web page.

  4. Avatar

    Kari M

    March 11, 2023at5:48 pm

    I really appreciate Kathy Castor and her representation, thank you Kathy! Keep up all the hard work.

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