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

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!

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It’s such a waste with all the sunshine we get in Florida that the power companies don’t take advantage of this natural & reusable energy source.
Of course they don’t want to use anything they can’t make a bundle of billions on.

Comment by Luz Ottens on April 21, 2014 6:22 pm

How humiliating … The Sunshine State fails to tap it’s greatest resource! That would sure be an terrible sub-headline for all all the ad money spent on tourists!
Go Solar Power!

Comment by Susan Thomas on April 22, 2014 9:22 am

Given the amount of sunshine we have in Florida, it would be absurd to not take full advantage of solar energy. We need to reduce carbon dioxide output in this country (and around the world) and energy producers like FPL should be doing all they can to convert from burning fossil fuels to cleaner energy. Also, by state and federal government continuing credits for solar energy development, energy providers and consumers have incentive to adopt solar energy as a source for electricity production and passive heating.

Comment by Jeff C on April 22, 2014 11:03 am

We need the PSC to take these programs away from FPL and any other electric utility. Solar programs should be controlled by a third party. I feel the people of Florida could start its own Florida State Solar Community, a grassroots approach, and finally take control of solar in Florida.
I have ideas. Imagine anyone in Florida could have solar PV, anyone. Problems from before, shade, renters, multistory buildings, even available space on the roof would suddenly be no problem.
Okey, who is with me!

Comment by Sun Commercial Solar / Michael Fink on April 23, 2014 10:24 am

The problems the companies have is they get profit cuts and lobbyist telling them to buy coal, fossil fuel, and other hazardous fuels. When a company works for profits, money is on their minds and in their pockets not the safety of our citizens or the future of the planet. 99% of the time people’s greed is in control not what the majority wants.

Comment by cd7pirate on April 23, 2014 10:29 am

It is time for a citizens initiative. According to Bill Ferree’s book, Empty Tank, Empty Wallet, Florida spends $100,000,000 PER DAY (yes, that is 100 million) on fossil fuels that we buy from out of state. That is $36 Billion a year in wasted money – gone forever from our state to Tennessee and Texas and Venezuela. Why aren’t we in the streets with pitchforks? Lets get this issue on the ballot! We are being fleeced by crooks.

Comment by Dave Finnigan on April 23, 2014 10:48 am

I would not be too quick to criticize FPL. Their solar water heating program is one of the best in the state with residential rebates of $1,000 but the problem is that it has been underutilized. Customers that clamor to get the PV rebate frequently will not even consider a solar water heater. FPL, Duke, JEA and most all of the utilities routinely express disappointment that there is little demand for solar water heating which they prefer, as a replacement for electric water heating.
Solar water heating has some distinct benefits that PV systems do not have such as:
1. higher efficiencies
2. Lower cost per watt
3. Built in storage capability
4. Can be wired for off peak element activation for the back up
5. Safer; you have low voltage 115V for AC systems and may be 24 V for DC systems to run the pumps vs 600V DC on a PV system
6. Smaller roof foot print. For most of Florida, a single 4×10 panel can provide most of the water heating for a family of 4.
7. Can be off grid with the use of a DC pump and small PV module.
8. No interconnection agreement. Does not interfere with the Utilities equipment or load management other than reductions especially since the output is highest when demand on the grid is highest. In this regard , thermal is similar to PV.

The FPL program gets even better for commercial with an approximate rebate of about $1034 per 4×10 panel subject to the panels’ FSEC rating. In addition, FPL is the only electric utility to allow you to use their rebate if you are commercially heating water with gas, ( natural or propane) and not just with electricity. For those of us in the commercial solar water heating arena, this is huge since most commercial water heating is done with gas and very, very little done with electricity.

So, I am not on FPL payroll but make a living selling and designing commercial solar water heating systems. In Florida, FPL’s program is the best. The problem is that our state has not developed a comprehensive strategy for renewables. Just take a look at the bill that did not even get to the floor to make solar commercial systems exempt from property tax. This is huge. If we can not even be serious about this, who are we kidding about how the leadership at the state level will urge utilities to offer programs that are more pro-solar.
Thanks for reading and have a sunny day. John Alger, P.E.

Comment by John Alger, P.E. on April 23, 2014 12:05 pm

It is time for anti-trust action. The telecom entrepreneurs had to get relief from the courts over the objections from AT&T and the FCC. Precedent set! Florida energy entrepreneurs need relief from the courts over the objections of FPL and the PSC for the RIGHT to do business. Let the consumer decide how and who should provide their kWhr’s.

Comment by Scott Schroeder on April 23, 2014 5:15 pm

If this is the so called sunshine state, it is long overdue that the Florida legislature and the FPL’s, Duke Energy’s, Progress Energy’s, etc., get behind promoting “solar energy” for home owners and business’. Sadly, we are way behind California and other western states in promoting clean affordable renewable energy. It is time that we do the right thing for this and future generations.

Comment by Lawrence Scheffler on April 24, 2014 4:17 pm

solar power systems for resedential homes should be of utmost priority in the “Sunshine State”. Rebates to help offset the intial cost is a no-brainer. As the top 1% continue to get richer, the rest of us need some help to keep afloat. Lower power bills are a great place to start that will continue to pay dividends well into the future;and solar is the future.

Comment by Ralph Ossowski on April 25, 2014 8:12 pm

Thanks for all your comments. A sentence in the blog previously stated that 80% of the Sunshine Energy Program’s contributions went to FPL’s administrative costs. This was not correct since the program was operated by a third party renewable contractor, Green Mountain Energy Company, for FPL. That statement has been corrected.

Comment by George Cavros on April 26, 2014 7:20 pm

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