Florida Power & Light – Solar Leader or Solar Laggard?

Guest Blog | September 21, 2016 | Elections, Energy Policy, Solar

Florida Power & Light (FPL) professes to be a solar leader. According to FPL, “Florida’s clean energy landscape is bright.” FPL touts that it’s tripling the amount of solar it’s generating for customers this year as if that’s a huge accomplishment to be celebrated. In fact, the utility goes so far as to claim that its goal of having one million solar panels in operation by the end of 2016 is “audacious.” The only thing that is “audacious” is the web of misleading information FPL’s CEO spins to cover FPL’s anemic commitment to solar for a utility their size (4.8 million customer accounts).  FPL’s whole game falls apart the minute you do the math and get to the facts.

Kennedy Space Center Solar Arrays, Photo: Superior Solar

What’s the real story? Is FPL’s solar goal audacious? Is FPL a solar leader, or a solar laggard? How do FPL and the other Florida investor owned utilities compare to leading peer utilities in the Southeast region and the nation when it comes to solar development?

Since power companies vary in size, the best apples to apples comparison for answering those questions is through a metric called solar watts per customer. Solar watts per customer measures how much solar electric output (watts) a utility has installed per customer. The Smart Electric Power Alliance, formerly called the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), a national educational non-profit that conducts research and collaboration to help utilities deploy solar and other distributed energy resources, uses the “solar watts per customer” metric to fairly and accurately represent and rank the amount of solar installed in a utility’s territory.

Based on SACE’s analysis of large-scale and customer-sited solar projects currently installed or in the pipeline to be in operation by the end of 2017 in the Southeast, Florida’s investor owned utilities seriously lag peer utility leaders in solar watts per customer, both in the Southeast region and in the nation. In fact, they are bottom of class.

The numbers tell the story:

As of September 2016,  Duke Energy Progress, which serves customers in North and South Carolina, is at 627 solar watts per customer. Duke Energy Florida? A paltry 26 solar watts per customer. By the end of 2017, Duke Energy Progress will install enough solar to move up to an impressive 927 solar watts per customer. Duke Energy Florida, on the other hand, is currently projected to remain at 26 solar watts per customer through the end of 2017.

FPL, which claims to be “kicking its solar capacity into high gear,” comes in at a negligible 32 solar watts per customer as of September 2016. At 627 solar watts per customer, Duke Energy Progress trounces FPL 10 times over, even though Florida has better solar resources than the Carolinas. And even after tripling its solar capacity by the end of 2016, FPL will come in at a meager 79 solar watts per customer compared to Duke Energy Progress’ projected 927.

Similarly, Tampa Electric Company is at a meager 17 solar watts per customer today, and will still be there at the end of 2017 based on current plans.

Finally, with only 7 solar watts per customer installed, Gulf Power compares even worse to regional leaders than the other Florida investor owned utilities. Georgia Power leaves its sister company in the dust with 272 solar watts per customer, almost 40 times as much as Gulf Power. And while Gulf Power’s planned solar projects will bring it up to 276 watts per customer by the end of 2017, Georgia Power also has additional solar projects in the works and is projected to maintain a commanding lead with 417 watts per customer by that date.

When Florida’s investor owned utilities are compared with national peer leaders, they fare even worse – national leaders are heads and shoulders above all four of the big Florida utilities. In fact, the actual gap between solar watts per customer for the Florida utilities and the national leaders is larger than that reflected below. The data for the national leaders has not been updated since December 2015 and thus does not reflect solar installations since that date.

Pacific Gas & Electric is at 1015 solar watts per customer, beating FPL’s 32 watts per customer more than 30 times over and Duke Energy Florida’s 26 watts per customer almost 40 times over. Arizona Public Service boasts an impressive 855 solar watts per customer, and Tucson Electric Power is close on its tail at 712 watts per customer.

The solar watts per customer analysis clearly reveals that all of Florida’s big power companies are huge laggards compared to both regional leaders and national leaders. This revelation reminds us that we all have to view FPL’s solar claims with great skepticism and look behind their misleading spin. FPL’s assertions that it is setting “audacious” goals and leading the advancement of clean solar energy for its customers are simply false and manipulative. Indeed simple math shows that they don’t stack up, but that does not stop FPL from spending millions of dollars in self congratulatory media ads pushing false information. Not only that – their claims mask nefarious aims.

FPL’s real agenda of course is to maximize its profits from selling power it owns, not to advance clean solar energy. Moreover, FPL is making false claims to bolster its image while at the same time trying to limit rooftop solar power in the Sunshine State. The big power companies have bankrolled a misleading amendment to the Florida Constitution – Amendment 1– that will pave the way for erecting barriers to customer-owned solar power.

Facts can sometimes be inconvenient, no matter how hard you spin them. FPL’s solar leader claims are as bogus as their claims that utility-backed Amendment 1 will promote solar and protect consumers. In fact,

  • Amendment 1 is funded by Florida’s big utilities to protect their monopoly markets and limit customer-owned solar,
  • Amendment 1 paves the way for barriers that would penalize solar customers, and
  • Amendment 1 misleads Florida voters by promising rights and protections that Florida citizens already have.

In the closely divided 4-3 Supreme Court decision that approved Amendment 1 and secured it a place on the general election ballot, Justice Barbara Pariente wrote, “Let the pro-solar energy consumers beware. Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida’s major investor-owned electric utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo. The ballot title is affirmatively misleading by its focus on ‘Solar Energy Choice,’ when no real choice exists for those who favor expansion of solar energy.”

Florida utilities, through their political committee, Consumers for Smart Solar, have raised a staggering $21 million in an effort to get Amendment 1 on the ballot and convince voters to adopt it. Why are they spending this kind of money if not to protect their monopoly, their political power, and their profits?

Large-scale solar power is a key component of the state’s energy future – as are community-based and customer-owned solar. Having the right policies in place to facilitate the speedy deployment of clean solar energy at all scales is critical to public health, climate protection, and the economy. FPL should clearly be doing more solar on its own and supporting pro-solar policies for its customers – not making false claims about its performance and interfering with customers’ rights to help build a bridge to a cleaner energy future.

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