- The Florida Public Service Commission unanimously approved a 1,490 MW community solar program by Florida Power & Light, the largest in the nation, on Tuesday.
- FPL's "SolarTogether" program reserves 75% for the commercial and industrial (C&I) sector and 25% for the residential sector. The project more than doubles community solar capacity in the U.S., according to FPL.
- The community solar program is expected online by mid-2021 and will include 20 solar projects around 74.5 MW each, below the 75 MW threshold that would require more regulatory oversight and competitive procurement of the plants.
Renewable advocates praised the development, but some groups were disappointed to see the entire 1,490 MW project would be built by the utility. In the U.S., a few green tariff programs have included solar capacity not developed by the utility but bought from a third party, according to Solar Energy Industries Association VP of state affairs Sean Gallagher.
FPL's SolarTogether "is sort of masquerading as a community solar program... we'd much rather see a system in which the market is allowed to compete," Gallagher told Utility Dive. "I don't agree that utility self-build is the only way, the fastest way... or the least costly way... to add solar in Florida or anywhere else."
"Opening [the program] up for competitive procurement has a positive aspect on pricing," Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) Director Dylan Reed said.
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) supports faster deployment of solar in the state.
"Yes, we support competitive procurement, but only if the industry is ready to do the fight that it's gonna take... right now, I'm not sure that if you had competitive procurement that you would have a pathway to deploy more than 1.4 GW of solar," Steve Smith, SACE executive director, told Utility Dive.
NextEra Energy, FPL's parent company, is one of the largest developers of renewable energy in the country, and the utility maintains that more than 98% of the construction costs for the 1,490 MW of solar result from competitive solicitations.
"To be clear on the sizing of these projects, FPL took several factors into consideration when developing the scope of the solar projects including timing and overall costs," Stephen Heiman, FPL spokesperson, told Utility Dive.
"By building at 74.5 MW, we’re able to capture economies of scale related to each site and build projects cost-effectively for our customers — a primary factor the PSC considers when approving solar power plants," he said.
FPL's program also allocates the largest portion of solar capacity for low-income customers in the country, which has led to praise from SACE, Vote Solar, SEIA and other clean energy advocates.
"There are some important low-income access provisions in the settlement," SEIA's Gallagher said.
Vote Solar estimates the 37.5 MW set aside to serve low-income families will help participants save $1,300 over the life of the program.
FPL plans to open enrollment March 17 on a first round of subscriptions to the program.
AEE and other groups expect a second round of subscription offerings from FPL, which the utility mentioned in the proceeding, to keep up with the growing clean energy demand in the state.
"At this time, we’re focused on launching the program as it stands as approved by the PSC. Any future phases may be taken into consideration at a later time," Heiman said.
Who else will follow?
Solar Together is the first large community solar program that focuses on C&I and residential. The program has received interest from more than 150,000 residential and business customers to offset up to 100% of their electricity use with solar, according to FPL.
In the past, solar subscription programs, or green tariff programs, "have been sized too small to meet [C&I] demand," Caitlin Marquis, Advanced Energy Economy director, told Utility Dive.
Georgia Power proposed a 1,000 MW program, which is still pending before state regulators, that is smaller than the 1,117 MW portion of FPL's SolarTogether reserved for C&I alone, according to Marquis. The next largest green tariff program is Duke Energy's 600 MW program in North Carolina, while other programs have ranged from 50 to 400 MW, she said.
In Florida, demand in both C&I and the residential sectors is expected to grow, making the market ripe for similar solar offerings, according to clean energy groups. Renewable energy demand for large C&I users is expected to grow in the state from 3.14 GW to 6.75 GW by 2030, according to a WoodMackenzie report prepared for AEE, "Opportunities for Meeting Commercial and Industrial Demand for Renewable Energy in Florida."
The commission's unanimous approval "sets the stage for other utilities in the state," AEE's Reed told Utility Dive.
Duke Energy's Florida subsidiary and TECO Energy are expected to consider similar offerings for their customers, taking advantage of the same state incentives as FPL to increase solar energy capacity.
"We will take the Commission's decision under consideration," Ana Gibbs, Duke spokesperson, told Utility Dive.
TECO did not respond to requests for comment. The smaller Florida utility is "actually putting more solar into the grid" per customer, when measured by solar watts per customer than FPL and Duke's Florida subsidiary, according to SACE.
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified FPL's procurement process. The utility said more than 98% of the construction for the 1,490 MW of solar results from competitive solicitations.