While distributed, local, and community-based solar is the game changer many see as the future, some still prefer the centralized energy model. Florida, which has been far behind in the solar power revolution, seems to be headed in that direction. At the start of April, Florida’s Duke Energy announced plans to expand its solar footprint. Its plan is to add up to 500 MW of utility-scale solar in Florida by 2024.
Filed with the Florida Public Service Commission (FPSC) in early April, Duke’s strategy for expansion of solar is part of Duke’s 2015 Ten-Year Site Plan. Greentech Media quotes Alex Glenn, state president of Duke Energy Florida: “Innovative investments in solar energy will provide customers with more options to use this resource while diversifying our energy mix and continuing to meet the needs of Florida’s growing economy and population.”
With capacity upgrades in the 10-year plan, Duke’s Hines Energy Center intends to increase energy efficiency and power output throughout the balmy, sometimes scorching summer months. Greentech Media continues: “This will be an addition of a combined-cycle natural gas facility in 2018 at Citrus County; a purchase and proposed acquisition of the Calpine Osprey Energy combined-cycle unit; and four planned combustion turbine units at an unspecified location in 2024.”
Duke Energy Florida is providing 1.7 million customers with 9,000 megawatts of owned electricity capacity. In the past, Duke has often been an unfriendly force against rooftop solar — limiting it in some markets — while concentrating on natural gas and coal. Natural gas is over 60% of Duke Energy Florida’s energy. The transition is underway for Duke to close two coal plants in the next few years — half of its coal fleet. Greentech Media goes on:
Solar will also play an increasingly important role, said Duke spokesperson Sterling Ivey in an interview. The two retiring coal plants have a combined capacity of 869 megawatts, so adding 500 megawatts of utility-owned solar would go a long way toward replacing that fossil fuel generation, he said.
“If you look out across the 10-year landscape, adding 500 megawatts of solar is definitely going to be a significant resource for us,” said Ivey.
It seems that Duke’s goal for 2024 is slow starting with the company’s beginning plans to build 5 megawatts of solar by the end of 2015, followed only by another 35 megawatts of solar by 2018. Thus, the formidable goal of hitting 500 megawatts of new solar capacity six years later will need a quickly increased production.
Notably, neither Florida nor Duke Energy have been very friendly to homeowners who want to install solar power on their roofs, people (conservatives and progressives) who want to follow the solar lead of states like California, New Jersey, and New York.
The explanation for a slow start, said Ivey, is reportedly that “Duke is deploying solar projects slowly in order to study how best to integrate the intermittent resource. The utility needs to find ways to store more solar energy, as well as to gain a better understanding of how smaller solar facilities, between 2 megawatts and 15 megawatts, interact with the electric grid.”
That sure sounds like a load of bull to anyone who knows the electricity industry well. Solar has become a large portion of many grids around the world — Germany’s, Australia’s, California’s, and Hawaii’s for example. Lessons have been learned, and one thing that has very clearly been learned is that solar can make up a lot bigger portion of a grid’s supply than Duke Energy Florida’s 2025 goal before storage is needed. In other words, it’s hard to trust Duke Energy Florida’s rationale on this.
Duke Energy does seem to see that the future is solar, as it is also diving into utility-scale solar in North Carolina and South Carolina while working the halls of policymakers to keep rooftop solar from expanding. That would help Duke Energy to maximize its own profits during the solar revolution. But that certainly doesn’t mean its the best option for the people.
The cost has come down. Still, Florida as one of the five worst states in the nation in some respects, such as wherein some current laws expressly deny citizens and businesses the freedom to buy solar power electricity directly from someone other than a monopoly electric utility or government-owned electric utility. It is time to change, and activists in Florida from both sides of the aisle are working on it. For more, see: Florida Solar Ballot Initiative Is A Step Closer To Supreme Court Review.
Solar Love reports that Americans want solar and not natural gas, yet Florida is still prioritizing natural gas. “The latest Gallup energy poll shows most Americans favor solar and other renewable energy sources. This is in spite of the current natural gas boom from fracking.” Aside from pollution, carbon emissions, and volatile prices, natural gas doesn’t create the jobs that solar does.
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