Florida: One Step Closer to Becoming Solar Energy Leader

A settlement agreement filed at the Florida Public Service Commission on the SolarTogether community solar program will, if approved, allow all FPL customers - including low-income - to participate in the largest community solar program in the US and help catapult Florida to the number two spot in the country for solar development.

George Cavros | October 11, 2019 | Florida, Solar, Utilities

A settlement agreement filed Wednesday, October 9, 2019 at the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) between Florida Power & Light (FPL), Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), Vote Solar, and Walmart on FPL’s SolarTogether community solar program will, if approved, allow FPL customers to participate in the largest community solar program in the US. The groundbreaking SolarTogether program will lead to the construction of 1,490 megawatts (MW) of solar power in Florida over the next two years.

The SolarTogether program is the backbone for FPL’s larger announcement of the 30×30 program that aims to install 30,000,000 solar panels by 2030. The SolarTogether program if approved will catapult Florida to the number two spot in the country for solar development and will decrease Florida’s reliance on fossil fuels that contribute to climate change. Other utilities and states should take note of this trailblazing program.

Both utility scale and rooftop solar installations continue to grow in Florida, yet some residential customers cannot directly access the economic benefits of solar power because they may rent their homes, live in multi-unit dwellings, or have shaded roofs. Likewise there are commercial customers that may not own their business property or may not want the ownership responsibility of rooftop solar. The SolarTogether community (shared) solar program  provides those  customers the opportunity to realize a direct economic benefit from solar power. It prioritizes the customer experience by allowing participation with no upfront subscription fees,  flexible subscription amounts, no cancellation fees, and allows the subscription to stay with the customer if they move within FPL’s service territory.

The 2018 SACE Solar in the Southeast report projects that Florida will leapfrog the current regional leader, North Carolina in total solar development in approximately 2021 based on announced solar commitments. The 1,490 MW of solar development through the SolarTogether program is a critical piece in Florida becoming a leader on solar development through the 30×30 program. SACE discussions with FPL and our own analysis show that the 30×30 commitment will lead to roughly 10 GW of additional solar in the the FPL system by 2030. SACE recognized the importance of the program in significantly ramping up clean, emission-free solar power in the Sunshine State. We endorsed the program early-on, but provided recommendations to improve it.

Parties recommend design revisions

SolarTogether has a novel design that uses a fixed subscription fee based on a customer’s subscription of a kilowatt (kW) solar installation block amount and an escalating bill credit – based on the projected economic benefit of the solar installations to FPL’s system. Participants in the program will see a net economic benefit on their bills beginning in year 7 of their subscription.

Given the unique design, it drew inquiries from parties in the docket on several design features, but primarily how the system benefits of the program are apportioned between participants in the program and customers that choose not to participate. SACE has been focused on reducing the energy burdens of low income customers. In fact, SACE made the case in its recently filed testimony in the energy efficiency proceedings at the Commission, that utilities needed to do more to relieve hard working families of their energy burden by ramping-up efficiency programs to help families, reduce their energy use, save money on their bills and make their homes more efficient, comfortable and secure.

SACE joined Vote Solar in raising the issue of adding a low-income component to SolarTogether in order to extend the economic benefits of solar to even more families. FPL, in its rebuttal testimony  filed on September 23rd, revised the program tariff to include more system benefit for all customers of $249 million and allocated a greater share of the benefit to customers that choose not to participate. In the subsequent days negotiations ensued among several of the parties regarding further program design revisions in the program – including the low-income customer provision.

Why a focus on low-income customers?

There are over 3 million low-income residents in FPL’s service territory (families at or below 200% or the federal poverty level). Many low-income households reside in older homes, which are often poorly insulated, and use heating and cooling systems that are less efficient. During times of extreme hot or cold weather, these inefficient homes have much higher energy bills, which can lead to difficult decisions between reducing or forgoing food or medicine in order to pay energy costs. Community solar allows customers to subscribe to part of an offsite solar array and receive a credit on their electricity bill similar to rooftop solar owners and makes the financial benefits of solar more accessible to those who may otherwise be unable to purchase or lease a rooftop solar array.

SACE is pleased that the settlement agreement for SolarTogether addresses the energy burden challenge. The agreement reserves 37.5 MW to low-income customers that would allow approximately 10,000 low income households to participate in the SolarTogether program, and ensures that the subscription fee will never exceed the bill credit in any given month for hard-working families that want to promote solar power. The agreement also requires that the Company to engage with SACE and Vote Solar on a low-income component for future phases of the SolarTogether program.

Stay tuned

Community solar has an important role to play in Florida’s (and the Southeast’s) clean energy future as a complement to rooftop solar programs, such as net metering. All types of solar ownership models and sizes must continue to be encouraged in the Sunshine State. SACE worked with FPL and other parties to get the strongest possible outcomes for all customers, including low-income customers, to be able to participate in the SolarTogether program. ​The settlement agreement now goes to the Commission for approval – a hearing is currently scheduled for January 14th. We are hopeful that the program will be approved as it will greatly expand solar in Florida and serve as a guide to other states and utilities on how to increase renewable energy and decrease reliance on dirty fossil fuels.

Stay tuned for developments as we head towards a hearing date!

George Cavros
This blog was written by a former staff member of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
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