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Published on February 14th, 2018 | by Danny Parker


What About Florida? Energy Efficiency, Solar Energy, & Regulatory Backwardness In The Sunshine State — Part 9

February 14th, 2018 by  

Florida’s Uncertain Energy Future:
The Current Situation

The big positive news early 2018 is that FPL is moving quickly ahead with plans to install a lot of utility solar. The reason is not due to altruistic aspirations by the utility or a desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but rather because this very low-cost mid-day electricity generation will allow FPL to alter its mid-summer resource dispatch order so that the least efficient natural gas steam plants can be seldom used and the cost of generation will be lower. And that means higher profits, both from the investments in the solar plants, but also from reducing the costs of overall electricity production.

Figure 1: Installing PV modules on the $116 million, 75 MW Barefoot Bay solar plant in Central Florida (FPL)

Moreover, you will soon likely read more about the great potential for utility-level electrical storage in Florida. The market here is ripe for that development — and it will likely usher in a new era of expanding renewable electric generation in the Sunshine State, backed by energy storage — and one so profound that generation technology itself will be affected. Given the rapidly falling price of electrical storage, NextEra CEO Jim Robo remarked that, “Post-2020, there may never be another peaker built in the United States.”

The detailed study by the University of San Diego (UCSD) makes clear the situation in Florida is ripe for large-scale before-the-meter storage. Moreover, the study also makes a strong case for behind-the meter electrical storage for commercial facilities that incur demand charges in Florida.

But what about behind-the-meter electrical storage for residences?

UCSD indicated that research on behind-the-meter electrical storage was critical and specifically called out the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) pilot:

“Further analysis could also examine the impact of JEA’s rebate program and the Investment Tax Credit for storage systems paired with solar generation. It will also be critical to supplement research on the economics of battery storage with similar research around other emerging technologies and to undertake robust system modeling to determine where various technologies might be cost-effective on Florida’s grid.”

I’d like to suggest that storms and frequency of power interruption may do what economics might otherwise find daunting for Florida’s housing. We need both solar and electrical storage for Florida’s home to navigate the late 21st century. Moreover, employment in the solar industry in the US has been growing at 17 times the rate of other sectors. Although the federal government has unwisely sought to increase the price of PV modules to slow this change relative to fossil fuels, the advance of this technology (solid state, simple, clean, reliable, and robust) is unstoppable. While things may be slowed in the US or in Florida, the same is not true in the rest of the world, where US competitiveness may be compromised.

Does this mean that FPL and the other Florida IOUs have warmed to rooftop solar?

Hardly. Of course, I’d love to be wrong. Prospects are likely similar for efficiency programs.

In April 2017, FPL was been working again with Tallahassee politicians to make it harder for rooftop solar installers selling solar loans and leases in the Florida market. How? Add extensive paperwork and disclosure requirements.

The invoked method was to hijack the successfully passed Amendment 4 (approved by 73% of voters in the August primary ballot). The amendment provided tax exempt status for residential solar installations, but FPL authored language that was provided to legislators to add to HB 1351. Much of the hurdles brought up by Edison Electric Institute use the theme that net metering moves the costs of rooftop solar installations to non-solar customers. Indeed, they have created a communications guidebook designed to help successfully make their case to consumers.

This disinformation campaign has moved to members of Congress, intended to cast doubt on the marketing honesty and viability of third-party solar installers selling solar leases or those providing solar loans, such as SolarCity.

How will this latest move play out? While that is uncertain, it is clear that the Florida utilities have not given up on slowing the adoption of rooftop solar in Florida. Should that fail, we can anticipate a direct attack on net metering itself.

The situation as of late 2017 is hardly static. Indeed, given recent changes to the federal corporate tax code, FPL just rescinded (or at least delayed) its plans to raise storm charge rates to recover $1.3 billion in costs after Hurricane Irma. While this is good financial news for all ratepayers in the state, vigilance should be maintained. As we’ve covered, the threat of large storms in Florida and their ability to disrupt statewide life remains volatile.

And the fact that rates are being held down reduces public pressure to advance efficiency goals and distributed renewables. Recently, in its detailed testimony regarding the justification for repowering the Dania Beach Clean Energy Center — a state-of-the-art natural gas fired combined cycle power plant that replaces its first 1927 power plant — FPL once more indicated that no cost-effective efficiency remained, a conclusion of which I remain exceedingly dubious. See pages 23 to 25 of FPL’s recent filing.

While the re-powering of the older facility with very efficient natural gas generation is likely in the best interest of Florida’s energy future, the other elements that would be really helpful in our state (efficiency and distributed solar and storage) are left hanging, with no prospects for improvement.

Figure 3: Proposed FPL Dania Beach Clean Energy Center near Ft. Lauderdale (FPL)

Meanwhile, as Florida IOUs prepare to dramatically expand utility-scale solar, they and their sponsors maintain delaying actions to oppose rooftop installations on homes. Edison Electric Institute and utilities continue their campaign against net metering. Since 2013, Hawaii, Arizona, Maine, and Indiana have decided to phase out net metering, slowing programs that had previously led to explosive growth in the rooftop solar market. And the battle for solar in Florida continues unabated.

On a national level, executive Brian McCormack, previously with the Edison Electric Institute, is now the chief of staff for Rick Perry, the head of the US Department of Energy. He will lead a study done by DOE that later this summer will evaluate whether renewable energy like solar is endangering the grid — something repeatedly debunked by one study after another.

Now, in late 2017, we have survived Hurricane Irma, the 2nd of four damaging landfall hurricanes in the year. Welcome to hotly debated climate change, which seems to be here whether we like it or not. One of the predictions is no greater number of storms but stronger storms and ones that can intensify suddenly. The source? Astonishingly warm water temperatures in the Gulf and Caribbean Sea — way above normal — or at least the old normal. So what does that mean for the world? Yes, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and quickly to avoid catastrophic climate change. In the continental US, only Louisiana may be at greater risk than Florida. Of course there are those who don’t believe basic facts of physics and the greenhouse effect. I am not willing to argue against pointless crusades that harken back to the Flat Earth Society. (Not surprisingly, the Flat Earthers have experienced a renaissance in recent contrarian years).

In any case, it is useful to keep in mind that no less a mind than Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb, warned the oil industry in 1959 on its hundredth anniversary that generating electricity with fossil fuels and burning them for transportation was eventually going to create a big problem with planet-wide CO2-related warming.

Would rising seas from warming cover the Empire State building, Teller pondered? Just the thought was chilling enough. So here we are in 2018 with increasing evidence of powerful man-made changes to the Earth’s climate.

To be sure, FPL did an amazing job to restore power to its millions of customers in the week following Irma. And, yes, I’ll repeat that I’m among the very appreciative customers to whom they restored power. Although, for my own 6.5 kW PV system, I will be installing battery storage for next time so that I can use my solar resource in case of power interruption.

Meanwhile, some battles are lost and some won. In one, South Miami becomes the first municipality in Florida to require solar PV installed on new homes or remodels.

Yes, solar is now rapidly growing in the Sunshine State — but for utilities and not necessarily for you.

How will it all end up? That’s far from certain.

Stay tuned.


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About the Author

Danny is principal research scientist at the Florida Solar Energy Center where he has worked for the last thirty years. His research for the U.S. Department of Energy has concentrated on advanced residential efficiency technologies and establishing the feasibility of Zero Energy homes (ZEH) — reducing the energy use in homes to the point where solar electric power can meet most annual needs. The opinions expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Florida Solar Energy Center, the University of Central Florida or the U.S. Department of Energy.

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