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Published on July 8th, 2014 | by James Ayre

34

Florida Utilities Working To Crush Nascent Solar Industry

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July 8th, 2014 by  

A coalition of Florida’s top electric utilities recently began grouping up with each other for the apparent intention of crushing the state’s still-nascent solar industry.

To be more specific, the utilities have begun working to crush the work of the solar advocacy group Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) — currently in the process of trying to sit in on some important Public Service Commission policy talks in Tallahassee and comment on the presentations.

Photo credit: Erman Akdogan / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)Photo Credit: Erman Akdogan / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Under Florida law, the Florida Public Service Commission is forced to hold regular policy meetings in order to come to a resolution on energy conservation and efficiency goals — solar and other renewable energy technologies are obviously included in this. TASC recently submitted (on June 10th) a petition to intervene on one of these meetings.

The Broward/Palm Beach New Times provides more:

This isn’t the first time solar people been involved in the discussions, says Yann Brandt, cofounder of the Demeter Power Group, a South Florida-based rooftop company. In 2008, the little guys intervened, and those talks eventually created a good metering policy and access to the grid for rooftop solar — moves that laid the groundwork for a good solar industry in the state.

The utilities had no problem with TASC sitting in on those discussions, in part because solar was still an expensive pipe dream. But since then, solar has seen a 75% price reduction, Brandt says, making it a viable consumer option. The 2014 round of FEECA talks could set out new policy to really jump-start the industry.


So, naturally, the utilities are now keeping a closer eye and doing what they can to maintain the current status quo.

When TASC filed on June 10th, all of the Sunshine State’s major utilities responded, all together — Duke Energy, Florida Power & Light, Gulf Power Company, JEA, and Tampa Electric Company — filing a joint response opposing the Alliance’s appearance.

The angle taken for the opposition is that the TASC isn’t what it claims to be, and rather than representing “mom-and-pop businesses,” it represents wholesale solar suppliers. And “that the FEECA talks were not intended to promote businesses, to protect business markets, or to protect the competitive economic interests of the solar industry.”

Naturally, Brandt disagrees.

“All of the sudden, the utilities no longer want the solar industry in the room because they want to proactively make sure that solar isn’t part of the energy mix in Florida,” he states. “They’ve been pretty open about the only solar they want in the state is large solar farms, not on people’s rooftops and their businesses.”

Indeed.

“At the end of the day, we recognize that the utilities are monopolies and they have to protect their shareholders, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a discussion about the things we don’t agree on and find common ground,” Brandt says. “It’s not that you want to make everyone put solar on their house, but we want to give people a choice.”

As of right now, the commission has decided to deny TASC’s petition. It’s unclear what the alliance’s next move is.

Maybe they can take a page from Tesla’s playbook in that regard and get citizens to demand the choice. Is not the US supposed to be based on freedom of choice?

It’s too bad that the fight for electric cars and solar power, both things that will help society, are so hard. And it’s ironic that Florida, the Sunshine State, is still hindering solar energy development.

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



  • GaelanClark

    If solar has gone down 75% since 2008, why does the industry still need incentives from government–tax credits, rebates–in order to survive?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Solar in many states has not yet reached grid parity. It’s close, but not there yet.

      A few more years of price drops should mean that solar will no longer need subsidy. The federal subsidy is scheduled to drop from 30% to 10% at the end of 2016. Soon after that it should go away completely.

      Of course fossil fuels will continue to receive their subsidies and taxpayers will continue to pay their external costs. But solar will do just fine even in a rigged game that favors fossil fuels.

      Hopefully at some point financial conservatives will start to question why we are paying out good tax money to support energy sources that cost us more than renewables.

      • GaelanClark

        I appreciate your response. In Tampa, the courthouse had installed $1.2mm worth of solar panels that were estimated to provided $60k per year of savings on the electric bill and a 20 year payback. In reality, the savings is only annualized at $27k which carries 45+ years on payback.
        20 years is most likely past the life of the panels…let alone any company that would give a warranty on such…45 years is ridiculous.
        This doesnt make sense and the only thing keeping such investments ongoing are necessarily the rebates and tax credits. Much like Tesla, which only garners a profit from the vehicle emission credits.
        I personally dont like giving money away for “investments” that dont make sense.
        If you could make sense of any of that, I would be happy to listen.

        • Bob_Wallace

          No, 45 years is not ridiculous. Our oldest solar array is now 40 years old. At age 35 the panels were taken down and carefully analyzed. They had lost about 0.1% performance per year. They lost 3.88% output in 35 years.

          In Florida with its higher UV levels the loss should be higher, but less than 0.4%. A 45 year old array should be producing more than 80% as when new.

          When you calculate payback time don’t forget to adjust for inflation. $27,000 at 3% inflation means a payback of $1.2 million in 28 years. Not wonderful, but a bit over 2.6% return on investment.

          And don’t forget, the money that is being spent right now for solar, while not having a fantastic rate of return, is helping build a solar infrastructure in Florida which means dropping prices over time.

          That’s the investment. An investment in building an industry that will likely bring Floridians cheaper electricity and lower the cost of electricity while creating lots of jobs.

          • GaelanClark

            That seems reasonable. Can you walk me through that payback calculation…I am stuck on the inflation adjustment.

            If what you are saying is true…why does the solar industry need a direct subsidy for every consumer purchase?

            I am okay with however someone wants to spend their money, I become less than happy when I read that SolarCity jacks up their install rates in order to reap bigger govt paybacks.

            And what of the intermittancy? Tying into the grid doesnt help much bc peak loads are early and late….not middle of the day. We need the same amount of conventional load and running even if we have everything renewable tied in.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Set up a spreadsheet. Start with your $27,000 number in 2014 and increase that number by 3% each year. Add the numbers cumulative as you go.

            2015 = 2014 + 2014 * .03
            2016 = 2015 + 2015 * .03
            ….

            Don’t know if SolarCity jacks up their rates. As the solar industry matures stuff like that, if it’s happening, would be taken care of by competition. Got to bid lower than the next company to get the business.

            Solar isn’t 24/365. Nothing is. Coal plants in the US run less than 60% of the time, natural gas plants less than 30% of the time. The way to get the cheapest electricity is to use the cheapest when they are available and fill in with the next cheapest.

            Wind and solar do not need conventional load running when they are producing. Unlike large thermal (coal and nuclear) grid operators know well in advance when wind speeds will change and solar output will change. Run on solar or wind for hours and then crank up the fill-in supply or pull from storage.

          • GaelanClark

            Thank you… using your formula I did get 28 years as well.
            I appreciate your helping me understand.
            This article ( http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-no-solar-20140810-story.html#page=1 ) states that solar power is “largely illegal” in Florida. I have tried emailing and calling the author to get a clarification on what he meant….do you have any idea.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I don’t know exactly how Florida utilities are attempting to keep people from installing solar. Try contacting companies that lease or install solar in Florida and see what they can tell you.

          • GaelanClark

            Okay, so I used your 3% Inflation AND a fairly cheap discount rate of 5%–(because the present value of $1.2mm is much greater than the future value…wherever that future actually rests on the final payback period).
            So..excel spreadsheet assumptions = 3% inflation (I compounded it yearly and summed those totals to the 8th year–it really makes no difference if you compound it yearly and add yearly) and 5% discount rate….In year 54 the actual payment to electric offset = $34177.09 where the present value of that payment = $2451.96….you got that?….the present value of a payment of $34177.09 in 54 years is $2451.96.
            Oh by the way….the total paid back in year 54 is a whopping $610,920.57……your 28 year payback is BS.

            I am willing to look at any literature that you can provide that would indicate only adding inflation…or is this your own formulaic equation?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Now do the same analysis for a new coal or nuclear plant.

            If you need overnight and operating costs you can find them here -

            http://en.openei.org/apps/TCDB/

            As a rule of thumb you can double the overnight cost to approximate accumulated interest during construction. And don’t forget to add in the external costs. Coal’s are very high.

            Remember, we need electricity. We don’t have the option of investing in generation capacity or the stock market.

          • GaelanClark

            So you agree then that your calculation is wrong and that the payback on a $1.2mm solar project giving $27k of savings per year will never, ever happen?

            Coal and nuclear projects are private and they also run and run and run. Solar props itself up on public rebates and tax incentives and runs for 6 hours a day…6 non-peak hours by the way.

            Before you tag me with how much the coal and nuclear projects receive from Federal dollars I will outline it for you…02-08= $72bb for fossil fuel and $29bb for renewable. Considering the difference in actual output…85% of power derived from fossil and only 6% from renewables then the metric is heavily skewed towards renewables. So the argument that fossil fuels receive subsidies doesnt wash.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let’s see.

            You started out with $1.2 million and $27k annual savings. Divided and got 45+ years.

            I pointed out that the $27k annual savings would increase with rising electricity prices.

            You made the claim that “20 years is most likely past the life of the panels” and I provided you data which showed that incorrect.

            Now you want to do a financial analysis of the Florida installation to see if it pays back on savings alone? Fine, go ahead. It may not ever pay off. But that’s not the issue.

            We’re screwing the planet with our use of fossil fuels. And we’re really harming our health as well. We’ve got to switch to other methods of generating electricity and hauling ourselves around. Getting those new technologies in place requires investment. It means that we’ll spend more per kWh than if we stick with the old technologies in order to achieve economies of scale and bring down prices.

            Now subsidies. Why are we still subsidizing mature technologies like fossil fuels and nuclear? These are 100 and 60 year old technologies which aren’t becoming cheaper but more expensive. It’s not just the $72 billion for fossil fuels. It’s also the external costs -

            “… a team of researchers at the Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment tries to put a price tag on coal’s hidden costs.The numbers are startling: simply tallying public health impacts, the study found that coal costs the United States economy $140 billion to $242 billion a year. Much of this burden is borne by mining communities in Appalachia, where premature deaths associated with coal mining cost local economies an estimated $74.6 billion a year.”

            http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/17/tallying-coals-hidden-cost/

            Renewables, on the other hand, have almost no external costs. (Wind turbines do kill a small number of birds and bats.)

            We’ve been subsidizing wind for about 30 years. During that time the cost of electricity from wind farms has dropped from $0.38/kWh to under $0.03/kWh.

            We’ve been subsidizing solar for about 30 years. During that time the cost of solar panels has fallen from $100/watt to about 50 cents/watt.

            Wind, natural gas and solar are now, in order, our three cheapest ways to generate electricity. With NG prices on the rise and solar continuing to fall NG and solar should soon swap places making wind and solar our two cheapest ways to bring new capacity on line.

            Florida lags. Florida wasted time trying to build nuclear reactors by stealing money from consumers. Now Florida needs to get busy and build its solar industry. Florida wil now have to do some of the investing that other states like California and New Jersey have already done. Spend some money to get solar businesses up and running so that they can bring prices down.

          • GaelanClark

            You provided zero “data”. You simply wrote what you want me to believe.

            As far as destroying our planet…I remember being told in the mid 80′s that oil would be gone before now……..well, we are still tapping. If you want to houeyballoo about algoreand the rest of the co2 scare mongers you are going to actually have to produce real world data…which happens to defy every single model upon which rests the hyhypothesis of CAGW. Every single instance of a prediction based on modeled or proxyied information has been falsified only to be reinterpreted so that there are no ways to falsify the models. Excuse after excuse as to why models deviate from data has been given and to what effect?…..tax and spend my money on a bunch of sensless crap.
            I am all for conservation and renewables…just dont force me to pay for it based on models.

            Now, you would have me believe some specious crap of a 28 year payback and you dont even know how to calculate it. Writing like an authority on the subject like you do you should not make such ridiculous mistakes. As far as rising energy prices….you fail to see the opportunity cost of spending on wasteful programs like this….how many times do I have to hear we need to raise property taxes to keep libraries and parks open before idiots stop frivolously spending our tax dollars on dead ends?

          • Bob_Wallace

            You want links to the information I provided?

            University of Oldenburg

            3,88% total loss over first 35 years. 0.1% per year loss.

            http://www.presse.uni-oldenburg.de/einblicke/54/files/assets/downloads/page0009.pdf

            The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) performed a meta-analysis of studies that examined the long term degradation rates of various PV panels. They found that the 1% per year rule was somewhat pessimistic for panels made prior to the year 2000, and today’s panels, with better technology and improved manufacturing techniques, have even more stamina than their predecessors. For monocrystalline silicon, the most commonly used panel for commercial and residential PV, the degradation rate is less than 0.5% for panels made before 2000, and less than 0.4% for panels made after 2000.

            http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy12osti/51664.pdf

            You want me to attempt to convince you that we are causing climate change? I’m not willing to spend my time.

            Take all your issues here -

            http://skepticalscience.com/argument.php

          • GaelanClark

            Thank you for the links on solar.

            SkS, huh? These are the guys that like to photoshop themselves as Nazis…funny stuff. I will stick with my knowledge base over idiots who like to write stories about consensus’ s.

            Hey, btw, I guess that the intensity of finding all of those rare earths for your solar arrays is great for the environment.

            Obviously you have your information wrong on a number of points….starting with your misunderstanding of Economics and ending with lunatics crying climate Armageddon.

            Are we at the end of the Holocene, or the begginning of the Anthropocene? Either way, if I am to believe the gloom and doom and say okay to your solution to the problem by taking away all of the plant food—you know, CO2—then you would have us back atthe beginning of the next glaciation. WOW….you really are bent on destroying the world and not just our economy.
            Get your parka out….if you even understand the last few sentences I wrote.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’ll copy a bit of the site comment regs for you…

            “CT respects the 97.1% of climate science peer-reviewed papers which have established a position on global warming and the 98% of climate scientists who have stated their position, agree that global warming is real, caused by humans and extremely serious. The only real debate is what to do in an attempt to minimize the harm, which is a primary focus of this blog. Global warming denying comments are always irrelevant on CT and will be removed.”

            http://cleantechnica.com/cleantechnica-comment-policy/

            If you’d like to stick around and discuss clean energy you are welcome. Your fact-free opinions about physics are not.

            As for my knowledge of economics, I was doing IRR/ERR calculations over 30 years ago. That’s how I made my money.

          • GaelanClark

            Yeah, the reality is cold records outpace hot records in 2014 by 2 to 1. Reality is that the arctic is not ice free. Reality is that total sea ice is at an alltime record high. Reality is that argument from consensus is not science.
            And, if you made all of your money doing IRR calcs, why did you get 28 years payback when reality is it will never payback.
            Your clownish math is laughable when you were supposed to have made a living doing it.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You are wearing out your welcome.

            Perhaps you might want to seek out a site where the 10% of people who don’t understand climate science gather.

          • GaelanClark

            Btw, why are you adding inflation to the future value of today’s dollars?
            Your calculation is backwards.
            And you havent even added any interest into the equation which is easily determined as the present value of the expenditure.
            Truly though, you need a logical exam of your formula and use the proper formula.
            By the way the present vaule of $1.2mm spread over 50 years is just above $500k….payback on the City of Tampa Courthousr array will never take place because the only people who would make this type of decision are those spending other people’s money.
            Seriously though, the math you employ…are you a part of this site?

  • Wayne Williamson

    Just a couple of extra points….
    Florida is known as the sunshine state. Seems like solar would be a no brainer.
    The current Governer has done pretty much nothing while the rest of the country and yes world have deployed like crazy.
    The possible replacement for him, has nothing on his list either.

  • Calamity_Jean

    Who owns the Florida state government? Republicans.

  • http://jpwhitehome.wordpress.com JP White

    All that sunshine and the utilities want it all to themselves. That’s what happens when you create a closed market that is protected by regulation.

    They maybe able to block solar tie ins to the grid, but folks could simply go off grid with enough storage and panels. As technology keeps getting cheaper, Florida might lead the charge for individuals going off grid.

    Musk would do well to sell Solar City installs, with battery storage from his gigafactory, all running the home appliances and charging the Tesla vehicle.

  • tmac1

    Jeff
    I have officially stolen your clean energy meme
    Thank you!!
    Here in Portland we are trying to block tar sands from being shipped from Canada to our harbor and then abroad. Typical scare tactics are we are going to lose jobs. Using your positive theme is we should emphasize build the infrastructure for the 21st century with clean energy , not repeat our dirty energy mistakes of the 20 the century

    Mr energy czar according to tesla models S website they have state by state breakdown do how electrons are produced. They list it under top 5 questions and it is amazing to see the variation across USA. Florida has 65% nat gas 22% coal 12% and a paltry 1% oil.

    • A Real Libertarian

      Link please?

      • JimBouton

        “Florida was second only to Texas in 2013 in net electricity generation from natural gas, which accounted for 62% of Florida’s net generation; coal accounted for 21%, the state’s nuclear power plants accounted for 12%, and other resources, including renewable energy, supplied the remainder.”

        “Renewable energy accounted for 2.2% of Florida’s total net electricity generation in 2013 and the state ranked seventh in the nation in net generation from utility-scale solar energy.”

        http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=FL

        • A Real Libertarian

          Thanks.

  • http://MrEnergyCzar.com/ MrEnergyCzar

    The Gulf oil industry is too important, I’m surprised solar is even legal in Florida. Does Florida still burn the highest percentage of oil as part of their electric grid production mix?

    • http://renewablerevolution.createaforum.com/index.php agelbert

      Florida is going to be “New Venice Archipelago” soon if they don’t extract their politics from LA-La land.
      “Release of the International Surface Temperature Initiative’s (ISTI’s) Global Land Surface Databank, an expanded set of fundamental surface temperature records ”

      Calling GW deniers everywhere. Go crawling to your Koch dirty energy funded mendacity for profit-over-planet mindfork propaganda “think”(septic) tanks for your “talking points”. The liars are going to have to come up with some world class BS verbal gymnastics to find ANY questionable data in this COMPREHENSIVE, PEER REVIEWED DATA SET.

      “Guest post by Jared Rennie, Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites, North Carolina on behalf of the databank working group of the International Surface

      Temperature Initiative In the 21st Century, when multi-billion dollar decisions are being made to mitigate and adapt to climate change, society rightly expects openness and transparency in climate science to enable a greater understanding of how climate has changed and how it will continue to change. Arguably the very foundation of our understanding is the observational record.

      Today a new set of fundamental holdings of land surface air temperature records stretching back deep into the 19th Century has been released as a result of several years of effort by a multinational group of scientists.

      The International Surface Temperature Initiative (ISTI) was launched by an international and multi-disciplinary group of scientists in 2010 to improve understanding of the Earth’s climate from the global to local scale. The Databank Working Group, under the leadership of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), has produced an innovative data holding that largely leverages off existing data sources, but also incorporates many previously unavailable sources of surface air temperature.

      This data holding provides users a way to better track the origin of the data from its collection through its integration. By providing the data in various stages that lead to the integrated product, by including data origin tracking flags with information on each observation, and by providing the software used to process all observations, the processes involved in creating the observed fundamental climate record are completely open and transparent to the extent humanly possible. – ”

      Full READ IT AND WEEP (for fossil fuelers ) fact filled article HERE.

      Demand an END to DIRTY ENERGY NOW!

      “Approximately 13 percent of the U.S. electricity supply was powered by renewables as of the end of 2013, roughly half of Germany’s rate.”

      http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/07/08/3456934/renewable-one-third-germany/

      The USA, a historic leader in new technology, is getting left behind because of the profit-over-planet biosphere degrading fossil fuel industry that buys our politicians with the profits from pollution producing fuels while said politicians keep fossil fuel and nuclear power plant “subsides” (taxpayer theft!) to tilt the energy playing field against renewable energy.

      We need to ELIMINATE DIRTY ENERGY SUBSIDIES and start the FULL TRANSITION to CLEAN ENERGY NOW!

      America DOES NOT have to play second fiddle to being the first country to win the Climate Victory because of idiot greedball, war loving fossil fuelers.

      As part of being responsible, caring human beings, we have to pressure our government to take major action to stop the degradation of the biosphere from climate change. This is causing death and disease to both domestic animals and wildlife, all of which have done nothing to deserve such a horrible fate at our hands. It’s time to eliminate the excuse our fossil fuel loving oligarchy uses for “resources” wars for oil that bring nothing but misery to us and profits for them.

      I started a petition on Care2: Demand Liberty From Fossil Fuels Through 100% Renewable Energy WWII Style Effort. I’m hoping that if enough people sign my petition, we can make a difference. Will you help me collect more by adding your name?

      Here’s a link to the petition: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/420/529/456/demand-liberty-from-fossil-fuels-through-100-renewable-energy-wwii-style-effort/

      Thank you and please pass it on. The biosphere you save may be your own. [img]http://www.pic4ever.com/images/earthhug.gif[/img] [img]http://www.pic4ever.com/images/icare.gif[/img]

  • S.Nkm

    Pretty sad considering that a huge part of Florida will be under water if nothing is done. People are crazy.

  • Offgridmanpolktn

    So the utilities are saying that the solar representatives can’t speak at the at this public meeting because they represent an industry.
    So this means that there will also be no input or commentary from any of the electric utilities or related power generation or conservation interests, right?
    Otherwise what total hypocrisy, the whole purpose of this is to get input from all sides to determine the best policies for the public interest.

    • Jim Smith

      interesting how that works, eh?

      • Offgridmanpolktn

        More sad how an entrenched monopoly so blatantly displays anti consumer behavior.
        Part of why my reaction to this is so strong is that for over a year now Florida Power has been harassing my father and all of their customers to start donating extra with their power bills every month to help them build solar farms. Not a single word about the possibility of reduced rates or any other type of credit for these donations. Just a constant harping in the form of letters and TV advertising in addition to the monthly flyer with his power bill asking the customers to help Florida go green.
        He doesn’t think that he will be around long enough to see a return on a rooftop solar system, but we have had to have the conversation several times that he doesn’t need to contribute to the utilities building fund if they aren’t going to give any type of return other than it is green energy at the same or higher prices as that from fossil fuels.

        • Jim Smith

          has he looked into leasing vs buying? not sure how leasing works when you sell the house though…

          • Offgridmanpolktn

            Leasing isn’t necessary as he has enough money and have tried to show him that the net metering of a small system year round would easily balance the small bills of the six months spent there during the winter. But then because the bills are small he doesn’t put a lot of priority on doing this.
            So more a problem of the inertia of age and the family politics of my sisters fighting his girlfriend getting the place when he does go. Which would actually be fine with me as she’s the only grandmother my boys have, and we could keep up our holiday visits without having to put up with them full-time.
            So if he doesn’t do it will hopefully be my job to help his girlfriend make the switch so long as the utilities haven’t blocked the grid tie aspect or removed the net metering that help the economics of the purchase price balance sooner.
            Apologies if this has been a case of TMI, but did want to address your question.

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