This Is Gonna Hurt: New Community Solar Power Plan Meets Biggest US Coal Power Plant

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If fossil energy stakeholders hoped the COVID-19 crisis can help them fend off the renewable energy revolution, guess again. The latest sign of big trouble comes from Florida, where the state’s biggest utility is still moving forward with a big plan to ramp up its solar power activity while disengaging itself from the biggest coal power plant in the US … and with a new transmission line on the way you can file that under Y for You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.

solar power community solar
Florida utility moves forward with new community solar program, seeks to withdraw from coal power (Image via FPL, solar power community solar program “Solar Together”).

Biggest Community Solar Power Plan In US

The utility in question is Florida Power & Light, which has fielded its share of criticism over its solar policies. Nevertheless, last spring FPL came through with a new proposal that adds up to the biggest community solar program in the country.

The proposal calls for 20 new solar power plants totaling 1,490 megawatts — a figure that easily beat the entire nationwide total of 1,290 megawatts for installed community solar at the time.

For those of you new to the community solar topic, the basic idea is to provide locally generated solar power for electricity customers who can’t, or won’t, install their own rooftop arrays.

Community solar programs are typically tied to a consumer’s specific address, but the FPL plan provides for its solar power to follow consumers who move within its service territory. It also includes solar assistance for low-income consumers.

FPL won the green light to go ahead with the project on March 3 of this year. COVID-19 or not, the utility plans for all 20 new power plants to be up and running by the middle of next year.

Biggest Solar Power Plan Meets Biggest Coal Power Plant

In the midst of all this solar power activity FPL has been easing its grip on coal power, having announced plans to close its last coal plant in Florida back in 2017.

That still left it with tethered to the biggest remaining coal power plant in the US, the  Scherer power plant located across the way in Juliette, Georgia.

Aside from local air pollution and water resource issues, and global climate change issues, the Scherer plant is also has a bit of a coal ash problem, so it’s not exactly a good fit for a solar-friendly utility.

FPL is still entangled with the Scherer plant, but perhaps not for long. Earlier this month the utility unveiled a plan to withdraw its 76% stake in Scherer Unit 4, which it hopes to accomplish by January 2022.

One last coal power plant on the utility’s to-do list is a 330-megawatt cogeneration facility in Indiantown, Florida. FPL bought the plant back in 2016 as a cost-saving measure, with the express intention of shutting it down and shifting to natural gas.  Earlier this month FPL put state regulators on notice that it is still heading in that direction.

More And Bigger Solar Power Plans In Store For Florida

FPL made some big moves into natural gas in recent years as it wriggled free from coal, so it’s not off the fossil fuel hook by a long shot.

The new plan does include shutting down two of its older natural gas power plants, but that’s not what should send shivers down the spines of natural gas producers. The big news in FPL’s notice to state regulators concerns a proposed new transmission line.

The notice was filed jointly by FPL and Gulf Power, both of which recently became subsidiaries of the renewable energy-friendly company NextEra. Here’s what NextEra has in store for Florida:

“NextEra Energy’s plan is to integrate FPL and Gulf into a single electric operating system effective on January 1, 2022 after the completion of a new 161 kV transmission line (the North Florida Resiliency Connection line)…This enhanced connection will benefit customers in both systems by better enabling the siting of clean, reliable, low cost generation, and the transmission of energy from those facilities, to all customers.”

As far as solar power and new transmission line projects go, this one is particularly interesting because it will connect two different time zones in the Florida Panhandle.

If all goes according to plan, the time-shift will add value to existing solar facilities and motivate the construction of new ones, too. Differing weather patterns along the Panhandle will also come into play.

The decline of coal power in the US demonstrates that major energy transitions can happen swiftly. Natural gas stakeholders should be taking a good, hard look at that new transmission line for a hint of things to come.

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Image: Via FPL, Solar Together community solar program.

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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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