Jacksonville solar project a reminder of what could be in Florida

Guest Blog | September 29, 2010 | Climate Change, Energy Policy

Renewable energy prospects in Florida may be cloudy this political season, but there are some bright rays in the Sunshine State.  Jacksonville’s municipal electric utility (JEA) and its project partners, PSEG Solar Source (owner/operator) and juwi solar (original developer), just dedicated a 15 MW solar power generating facility on the city’s west side.

PSEG Jacksonville SolarThis is the 3rd largest photovoltaic solar power plant in the United States! Kudos to JEA and partners for bringing this to life.  However, unsettled and potentially stormy weather is forecast for the next season, as Florida needs supportive policy and a stable financial climate for renewables to shine in the state.  Business and political leaders in the state need to change course to assure we enjoy more sunny days.

The new Jacksonville Solar system is expected to generate about 22,430 MWh (AC) of electricity each year, about what 1,500 households typically consume on the JEA system.  Under peak conditions, according to a PSEG release, the system should support the power needs of more than 12,000 homes (mid-day, clear sky, normal summer temperature).  This power comes clean, avoiding greenhouse gas emissions estimated at 22,430 tons per year, as would typically come from a conventional fossil fuel plant.

Local leaders and project partners were on hand to join the celebration, including JEA, PSEG and juwi executives, local government officials, business and community leaders.

JEA CEO and managing director Jim Dickenson outlined JEA’s continuing efforts to meet its clean power commitments to the community. He noted that while Florida does not have a mandated renewable electricity standard, the utility develops this and other clean energy projects because it wants first-hand experience with alternative energy technologies, so it is better prepared when such standards are implemented, as expected one day.

Dr. Ralph Izzo, chairman, president and CEO of Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), said that renewable energy is needed in our country for energy security, economic strength, to meet investor expectations, to support development of jobs in the community-and for environmental reasons.  PSEG has delivered $110 million towards its plan to invest $1 billion by 2013 in solar energy projects.

State Senator John Thrasher (Chair of the Republican Party of Florida) spoke about renewable energy generally.  He said these developments help protect us: diversify our fuel options, reduce risk from weather and other events, and encourages investment in our state-jobs for services and manufacturers.  He recognized JEA’s deliberative process for undertaking alternative energy projects and its efforts to moderate rate impacts.

Speaking again at a later gathering hosted by PSEG, Dr. Izzo recommended attention first to energy efficiency-but acknowledged that consumers (household and corporate) are not naturally accepting or responding to natural economic incentives for adoption of these energy saving measures.  He described it as a flaw in the market (economists might refer to “structural barriers”).  Outlined were three ways to respond to obstacles to more thorough adoption of energy efficiency in homes and business:

  • Legislative standards can set minimums, goals or other requirements
  • Prices can be set to reflect the total costs of electricity (including externalities not now incorporated, or artificial price add-ons to more fully reflect societal values)
  • Change the investor: for instance, have utilities provide appliances as part of their service package (with appropriate pricing)

Some of these responses are happening today across the nation in various jurisdictions or service territories.  They can be focused on particularly societal values, such as supporting low-income households, hospitals, municipal government (areas from which all citizens benefit).

Further, Dr. Izzo on prospects regarding facilitated renewable energy supply: help manage the transition.  When considering all-in costs, the price differential apparent today between renewables and conventionally fueled generation is not as big as it looks.  Particularly, market pricing is not very good at assessing long-term factors and externalities (for example, future carbon emission costs).

Dr. Izzo went on to claim that the future of centralized power supply includes a nuclear component and natural gas as a transition fuel.  In response to questions from the audience: We can expect 20%-25% renewables in our future energy mix; wind is competitive today; solar costs are still higher than conventional power sourcing, but can attain today grid-parity in the western U.S.  Energy efficiency can deal with virtually all growth in demand.  One impending issue is need for more long-distance electric power transmission lines, as they are costly and face a lot of citizen concerns.  He closed granting that nuclear prospects face weak public acceptance and cost issues may mount.

“We’ve taken a very important step here, not just for Florida but for the whole country,” said the head of PSEG Solar Source. However, her company has been frustrated by the fact that state lawmakers haven’t finalized a solar power tax abatement that was envisioned when her company began planning its work in Jacksonville. “If we want to continue to develop renewable energy in Florida, we’ve got to keep the [financial] environment stable and welcoming,” she said, “or people will take the capital elsewhere.”  — PSEG’s Vice President, Renewables, Diana Drysdale in Florida Times-Union.

Hopefully, Florida’s leaders will get the message:  help us advance a well-diversified clean energy future, so we are competitive nationally and globally for renewable energy investment.

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