FPL’s Solar Plan: It’s a Joke, But It’s Not Funny

George Cavros | April 18, 2014 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Solar, Utilities

I live and work in south Florida and have been a clean energy advocate for well over a decade. During that time, Florida’s families and businesses have overwhelmingly supported more solar power in Florida’s energy mix. Yet, the Sunshine State’s elected leaders and biggest power companies have failed to deliver on the desire for more solar power. Florida, for instance, is the 3rd largest electricity market in the country, but ranked a mere 18th in 2013 for installed solar photovoltaics (PV).

Which brings me to Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) skeptical view of solar power.

FPL is the biggest power company in Florida, and one of the biggest in the nation, with about 4.7 million customers – serving over half of all Florida’s customers. The company made a $1.3 billion profit last year. Given the company’s size and influence, how it views solar power matters. The company recently announced a “new” solar energy program to construct up to 2.4 megawatts (MW) of solar PV over the next 3 years. If that doesn’t sound impressive, it’s because it’s not. As an FPL customer, it’s downright disappointing. Wait it gets better. The solar program would be funded by voluntary customer contributions of $9 per month. If this program sounds familiar, it should – but we’ll get to that in a moment. Meanwhile, the company filed a petition asking the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) to discontinue its popular solar rebate program that has helped residential and commercial customers install solar on rooftops since 2011. The company paints solar power as not cost-effective and providing limited value to its system.

Peer utilities in other states have taken a different view on solar power.

Georgia’s largest utility, 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. Yes, that’s right, the levelized cost of the solar power is cheaper than the fossil/nuke alternatives.

Georgia is adding so much solar power to the grid this year that the state could rank in the top five for solar installations in 2014. Approval of the program indicates that Georgia is thinking big on solar – and recognizing the value of solar. Its commitment is driving significant investment and job creation in its solar industry and will meaningfully expand solar into its energy mix – but it wouldn’t have happened without buy-in from the state’s largest utility and PSC.

Other southeastern neighbors are tapping the benefits of solar power as well. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) could sign new agreements for up to 126 megawatts of solar this year through small-scale and large-scale programs. In North Carolina, 335 MW was installed in 2013, accounting for nearly three quarters of a billion dollars in investment!

Meanwhile, Florida – sunnier and more populated than any other southeastern state – installed less solar over the past three years than Georgia installed in 2013 alone (91 MW). All while huge price decreases occur in the solar industry.

Our biggest power company has not bought in on solar. In fact, FPL President, Eric Silagy, states that its program will help “truly gauge customer interest in supporting solar power.” Apparently, the company needs more convincing to join the clean energy future. This is not leadership.

By the way, if this “new” 2.4 MW program proposed by FPL sounds familiar, it’s because it’s strikingly similar to its Sunshine Energy Program that was scrapped by the Florida PSC in 2008 for poor management. Only 20% of customer contributions were applied to developing renewable energy facilities. Before it was mercifully shut down by the PSC, more than 38,000 FPL customers had voluntarily contributed $9.75 per month to a program that was intended to promote the development of renewable energy.

At a recent rally in support of solar at the State Capitol, Debbie Dooley, from the Georgia Green Tea Party, proclaimed Georgia as the new Sunshine State. Who can argue with her?

Relative to what’s going on around us, FPL’s proposed solar program is a joke. But it’s not funny to the large swath of Floridians that overwhelmingly support solar power, to a state hungry for economic development and job creation, and to parents, like me, who have the moral obligation to leave a clean and sustainable energy future for our kids.

Will you take a stand with me? Take a minute now and use this form to send a letter to FPL President Eric Silagy and let him know: Floridians want FPL to support solar in the Sunshine State!

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