Florida Power & Light Company has announced that, in an effort to offer more customers the choice to support solar power, it is proposing a voluntary, community-based, solar partnership pilot for consideration by the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC).
If approved, FPL will install new solar-powered generating facilities in Florida communities, funded by voluntary contributions from FPL customers who choose to participate in the pilot program. Key to its design, and unlike current solar rebate programs, the pilot will not increase electric bills for customers who choose not to participate.
"As the leader in providing the most solar power in the Sunshine State, FPL has long been committed to planning for Florida's clean-energy future, and we, along with our customers, believe solar should play an increasing role in Florida's energy mix," said Eric Silagy, president of FPL. "For customers who care deeply about advancing clean energy – including those who may not have the ability or desire to install their own solar systems – we are proposing to create a voluntary, community-based partnership that is designed to help grow solar in Florida without costing a penny for those who choose not to participate."
Through this voluntary pilot program, FPL customers will have the opportunity to elect to contribute to advancing solar power in Florida for $9 a month. During the next three years, FPL projects that the program could support the construction of as many as 25 commercial-scale, distributed solar arrays – each roughly 10 to 15 times larger than a typical residential rooftop installation – for an estimated total of up to 2,400 kilowatts (2.4 megawatts), depending on customer participation.
"We know that some of our customers have an affinity for solar power, but we also know that for a variety of reasons, many are not able to install it themselves. This pilot program will allow us, along with the PSC, to truly gauge customer interest in supporting solar power," said Silagy. "Ultimately, any program we offer must be designed to benefit all of our customers, and this voluntary, community-based solar program is designed with that goal in mind."
The pilot program is expected to begin accepting voluntary customer contributions in 2015. FPL plans to provide the initial necessary funding so that the installation of at least the first two to five solar arrays can begin in early 2015, in anticipation of receiving sufficient funding from customers. The arrays will be constructed by local, Florida-based solar installers selected through a competitive bid process.
As an incentive to encourage customer participation during the three-year pilot, the charitable foundation of FPL's parent company, NextEra Energy, will contribute a total of $200,000 a year on behalf of the program to Florida-based non-profit organizations and local chapters of national non-profits dedicated to environmental protection and community development. Customers who sign up for the pilot will have the opportunity to select their preferred organization from a list of several well-recognized, reputable non-profits, including the Everglades Foundation, Save the Manatee Club and the Florida chapters of the National Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy.
"The Everglades Foundation believes that solar energy is an important component of an overall strategy to reduce Florida's and the nation's dependence on fossil fuels. FPL's voluntary solar partnership plan is an example of the leadership and innovation needed for a better and greener Florida," said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation.
Among the first communities selected to host the new solar arrays are Fort Lauderdale, Sarasota and West Palm Beach, Fla. FPL is also working with additional communities across the company's 35-county territory to determine sites for potential installations based on a variety of factors, including space availability and local customer interest in the program.
"West Palm Beach is committed to working closely with leaders such as FPL who share our vision for a brighter energy future and one that includes more solar energy. The voluntary solar program is a novel way to overcome the barriers that prevent some of our residents and businesses from contributing to clean, renewable solar power," said Mayor Jeri Muoio.
"The City of Fort Lauderdale is excited about the possibility of partnering with FPL to bring renewable energy generation to our neighbors. This type of program will help the City continue to work toward its vision of being a sustainable community now and into the future," said City Manager Lee Feldman.
FPL customers can visit www.FPL.com/solar to learn more about the proposed new pilot program and FPL's other solar initiatives, including the company's three large-scale solar energy centers, which have a combined generating capacity of 110 megawatts.
FPL's website also includes information about existing solar pilot programs that were mandated by the PSC during its 2009-2010 demand-side management (DSM) proceedings. From 2011 through 2013, these programs cost FPL customers nearly $30 million, including $16.5 million to provide rebate subsidies for about 900 customers' individual small-scale solar-panel installations – the least economical form of solar photovoltaic (PV) power. FPL's analysis determined that these existing pilots are not cost-effective as they cost all customers more to fund than the benefits they generate.
With cost-effectiveness in mind, FPL today also filed updated data with the PSC regarding 10-year projections for energy efficiency. The filing includes the company's proposed goals for energy efficiency that would be achieved through cost-effective DSM programs during the 2015-2024 timeframe.
"All customers bear the cost of PSC-mandated energy-efficiency programs, whether they use them or not, so it's important we take a close look at them through the regulatory process. By streamlining our efforts to ensure we focus squarely on proven, cost-effective programs, our customers will benefit from both lower electric rates and increased energy savings," said Silagy.
FPL customers are expected to benefit from approximately 13 percent more energy efficiency over the next decade, versus comparable 2009 projections, as a result of the company's proposed DSM goals, stricter state building codes and federal equipment manufacturing standards. At the same time, FPL's updated goals would reduce the costs that customers pay for DSM through their monthly electricity bills.
During 2010 through 2014, FPL customers will pay a total of more than $1 billion in order to meet mandated DSM goals. Beginning in 2015, FPL's updated proposal would reduce DSM costs by an estimated $80 million a year. If approved by the PSC, FPL customers would begin to see these savings reflected in lower conservation charges on their electric bills as early as January 2015.
"Fundamentally, it makes no sense for our customers to over-pay for energy efficiency, particularly given the significant strides we've made in this area and the fact that many of our customers are already taking action to be more energy-efficient without the need for utility-administered incentives," said Silagy.
FPL's updated DSM goals are consistent with the nation's changing energy landscape, which is becoming increasingly more energy efficient. Coupled with the benefits of FPL's operational enhancements, fuel-efficient power plants and other improvements, the result is a declining need for customer rates to fund utility-administered DSM programs.
"We firmly believe that when looked at holistically, the two proposals – FPL's new voluntary, community-based solar partnership and updated demand-side management goals – are a powerful combination that could very well produce a significant amount of solar power without a mandated subsidy, lower what is already the lowest typical residential bill in the state and help continue to move Florida's economy forward – all of which is great news for Floridians," Silagy said.
For the fifth year in a row, FPL's typical 1000-kWh residential customer bill will continue to be the lowest in Florida and approximately 25 percent lower than the national average. To help customers discover ways to make their bills even lower through efficiency, FPL has provided more than 3.3 million individualized home energy surveys and 190,000 business energy evaluations to date. The company is recommending that the PSC approve the continued offering of these educational programs for the period 2015-2024.
"Rather than pursuing one-size-fits-all mandates, we believe in empowering our customers by providing cutting-edge tools that give families and businesses more information and more control over their energy usage than ever before, and in so doing, taking actions that best suit their lives," Silagy said.