FPL a Leader on Solar Energy?

George Cavros | May 22, 2014 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Solar, Utilities
In a recent blog post, I questioned FPL’s leadership on solar power and the scale and design of a recently announced voluntary “community-based” solar program. In a response letter, the Company took offense to the blog – calling it misleading. Let’s take a closer look at some of the Company’s responses to the blog and come clean on the facts.

FPL claims that it has “long been a leader on solar energy,” and goes on to say that “commitment to clean energy is in our DNA: FPL’s parent company NextEra Energy, is the largest provider of renewable energy from the wind and sun in North America.”

Fact: FPL is not NextEra Energy [Resources]

FPL often conflates NextEra Energy and itself. In fact, NextEra Energy is the parent company of two subsidiaries: NextEra Energy Resources and FPL. NextEra Energy Resources primarily provides renewable energy in markets outside of Florida and has generating assets with a capacity of about 18,000 megawatts (MW) – its energy portfolio is comprised of 59% renewable energy: 56% wind and 3% solar power.

Closer to home, FPL is a regulated Florida investor-owned utility and one of the largest in the country – with about 24,000 MW of generating capacity.  The company’s renewable energy portfolio is comprised of no wind, some biopower contracts with primarily waste to energy facilities and 110 MW of utility-owned solar power. The Company generates less than 1/10 of 1 % of its power from solar energy.

In its letter, FPL claims that “we hope to add hundreds of megawatts of additional solar capacity in the years ahead.” Yet, FPL has no solar energy projects slated for development for the next ten years, according to its 2014 Ten Year Site Plan. The only solar plan before the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) by FPL is a voluntary solar program which may construct up to 2.4 MW (best case scenario) and which is essentially its Sunshine Energy Program approach to solar PV development based on a charitable donation model – previously scrapped by the Florida PSC for poor management.

To the extent FPL shares DNA with NextEra Energy, for FPL, the solar energy gene must have skipped a generation.

Fact: FPL trails peer utilities badly on solar development

In contrast, a similarly regulated peer utility to our north, Georgia Power, is thinking big on solar. Georgia Power, is on pace to have nearly 800 MW of solar power by the end of 2016. The bulk of this capacity will be added through Georgia Power’s Advanced Solar Initiative (ASI), which was expanded by the Georgia PSC last year by an additional 525 MW. ASI consists of utility scale solar projects with a smaller portion comprised of distributed solar – like rooftop solar. In approving the program, the Georgia PSC found that the Georgia Power’s ASI solar program will provide valuable cost effective power to its customers – on par or cheaper than conventional generation.

Why doesn’t FPL proactively file a similar program with the Florida PSC for approval? Ask the Company.

Fact: FPL’s ‘new’ plan is not a community solar program

FPL claims that its solar plan is a “community-based” program. Yet, there is nothing in the design of the proposed solar plan that gives FPL the right to use “community” in the moniker of the program. Community solar is a term of art with a set of best practices which invariably requires that customers own a slice of the project. FPL’s program, on the other hand is a green pricing program based on $9/month voluntary donations from its customers – with little transparency to the customer on what they have purchased and no sense of ownership in any project(s) that may get built.

FPL would be well advised to look at the design of the Orlando Utility Commission (OUC) community solar program. Under OUC’s program, customers can purchase 1 KW increments of its community solar project. Therefore, OUC customers know exactly what they have purchased and reap the benefit of of locking in the flat rate for power for the life of the solar project. Moreover, OUC’s community solar program is over 3 times the size (relative to its customer base)  than the best case scenario of 2.4 MW from FPL’s recycled, feelgood donation solar plan.

Based on the above facts, can FPL claim to be a “leader” on solar energy? You be the judge.

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