Huge US Utility Jabs Trump With Ambitious New Solar Plan

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There they go again. President Trump keeps saying he’ll make good on those new coal jobs he promised during last year’s campaign, but big utilities keep ramping up their interest in other fuels. Barely one week after Trump issued an order rolling back the EPA Clean Power Plan, the massive Florida Power & Light Company announced that solar will soon outrun oil and coal combined in its electricity generation mix.

That’s pretty big news, but what really caught the CleanTechnica eye was the level of detail about solar projects in the announcement — almost as if FPL (a subsidiary of the diversified energy company NextEra, btw) is trying to poke back at Trump for his much-publicized attacks on the Clean Power Plan.

Photo (cropped): FPL pavilion at Dayton International Speedway, courtesy of FPL.

Red State Gets More Green Solar Power

Florida swung for Trump in the 2016 election, but it doesn’t look like FPL is on board with Trump’s coal-friendly messaging.

Here’s the gist of FPL’s renewable energy plans:

Power & Light Company today announced that it now expects to add a total of nearly 2,100 megawatts of new solar across Florida in the next seven years, including approximately 600 megawatts previously announced, which are on track to be operational by early 2018.

And, here’s the bad news for coal:

…FPL recently reached a preliminary agreement with JEA to close down the St. Johns River Power Park, a coal-fired power plant in Jacksonville, Fla., jointly owned by the two utilities.

Another coal plant in Martin County will also close, by 2019.

Solar alone is not the reason for coal’s slippage. Like many other utilities, FPL is leaning heavily on natural gas in its modernization plans.

In the new solar announcement the company also notes that it will modernize an aging gas power plant in the Fort Lauderdale area with more fuel efficient equipment.

Saving Greenbacks With Green Energy

The reliance on natural gas is problematic (to say the least), but the availability of cheap natural gas has helped FPL and other utilities to hold down rates while introducing more renewable energy into the mix.

CEO Eric Silagy is looking for that trend to continue:

“…We’re currently building some of the lowest-cost solar ever seen in America, and our investments in more efficient natural gas technology are delivering enormous savings and environmental benefits for our customers and our state…”

If all goes according to FPL’s ten-year plan, solar will beat out coal and oil combined by 2020:

…FPL expects to reduce its coal and oil usage to less than 1 percent combined while more than quadrupling solar’s share of the company’s energy mix. In 2023, FPL projects solar will reach 4 percent, which is a higher percentage than nearly every state in the nation today.

In Your Face, Clean Power Plan Haters

OK, so a 4% share of FPL’s mix doesn’t actually sound all that impressive. However, check out FPL’s press release (link is above) and you’ll see that the company is pushing solar as the next best thing since sliced bread.

Like certain other utilities, FPL has taken some heat for promoting centralized, utility scale solar over distributed generation. According to FPL, though, the advantage is that “universal” solar can take advantage of existing transmission lines and other existing infrastructure to lower costs, in addition to bulk discounts on solar panels and other savings.

For the lifetime of eight new solar plants already under development for 2018, the company expects its customers to save $39 million.

The company is also eyeballing one of its existing sites to develop 1,500 megawatts from 2019 to 2023, with more customer savings anticipated.

The press release also lists almost 20 solar installations set for completion within the next year or so, including the Daytona International Speedway “Solar Circuit,” the Broward Young At Art Museum & Library, the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society and the Palmetto Estuary Nature Preserve.

That’s on top of smaller solar arrays at scores of schools (more than 100, according to FPL).

Also of note within recent years is the Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center, a first-of-its-kind solar gas hybrid plant.

You can expect FPL and other utilities to keep ramping up the clean power investments — and ramping down coal — Clean Power Plan or not.

Meanwhile, keep your eye on the US Senate, which is considering two bills that would cripple EPA’s ability to use medical evidence and expert opinion in its review processes.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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