Duke Energy Florida Plans To Double Its Solar Power Capacity

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You don’t have to hit the management team at Duke Energy over the head with a 2×4 to get them to wake up to the advantages of solar power, but it might help. Perhaps its executives have been spurred on by the massive investment by cross-state rival NextEra Energy, a division of Florida Power & Light, which plans to install 30 million solar panels between now and 2030. Or perhaps they have stopped drinking the fossil fuel Kool-Aid and noticed that solar power is simply cheaper than nuclear, coal, or natural gas.

Okay, the crossover point may not be here quite yet, but utility companies think in terms of decades and they put a premium on predictability. Natural gas is abundant and cheap right now, but there’s no guarantee it will be in 2027. The cost of electricity from a solar power plant that comes online today can be accurately calculated down to the tenth of a penny 20 years from now. That’s the kind of metric that appeals to decision makers.

Duke Energy Florida community solar
Image credit: Duke Energy Florida

Whatever the motivation might be, Duke Energy this week submitted a proposal to the Florida Public Service Commission requesting approval for a plan to build 750 megawatts of new solar capacity at a cost of $1 billion. A spokesperson for Duke Energy Florida tells the Tampa Bay Times, “This is an opportunity that provides customers a way to provide them solar access while actually lowering their bills over time.” The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Vote Solar, and Walmart helped to develop the plan.

Clean Energy Connection

The solar electricity will be made available through Duke Energy Florida’s Clean Energy Connection Program, “which is delivering on what our consumers desire — budget friendly clean energy options. It will be a quantifiable way for customers to cooperate reducing carbon emissions,” said Catherine Stempien, President of Duke Energy Florida, in a press statement. “We know that larger scale solar is the most affordable way to get the benefits of solar on our entire system as well as this program gives consumers, particularly those who might not have the capacity to set up solar in your home, an engaging option to roof panels.”

The Clean Connection program is designed to allow customers who cannot install rooftop solar — such as renters and condo dwellers — to obtain the benefits of clean solar electricity. Another features is the access to solar power is portable if a customer moves anywhere within the Duke Energy Florida service area.

“This is an opportunity that provides customers a way to provide them solar access while actually lowering their bills over time,” said Ana Gibbs, a spokesperson for  the company. About 26 MW will be set aside for low income customers. To date, the city of St. Petersburg has signed up for 28.3 MW while 12 commercial and industrial customers have reserved 540 megawatts of capacity.

In essence, customers will pay $8.35 a month for a one kilowatt block of power. The company says if they remain customers for 7 years, they will earn rebates that will offset the cost of their participation in the program.

Solar In Florida

Solar power has a been a bone of contention in Florida for years, with utility companies waging an aggressive disinformation campaign against rooftop solar. It got so bad, the major utilities spent millions on a campaign for an amendment to the Florida constitution that would have outlawed individual rooftop solar systems. The attitude of the companies has always been, “It’s our electricity, dammit, and we will decide how it is generated and how much you will pay for it.”

Florida Power & Light has a similar community solar program that is more than double the size of the one Duke Energy Florida is proposing. FPL says more than 120,000 families and small businesses have expressed interest in participating in its SolarTogether program. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Vote Solar were also directly involved in promoting that community solar initiative.

Driving around Florida today, rooftop solar panels are conspicuous by their absence. The utility companies may be high on solar electricity for their own use but have been largely successful at limiting the number of solar panels on the rooftops of the Sunshine State. What a waste to squander all that prime territory for erecting solar panels. Attitudes in Florida are changing but not nearly fast enough.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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