Florida Power & Light (FPL) professes to be a solar leader. According to FPL, “Florida’s clean energy landscape is bright.” FPL touts that it’s tripling the amount of solar it’s generating for customers this year as if that’s a huge accomplishment to be celebrated. In fact, the utility goes so far as to claim that its goal of having one million solar panels in operation by the end of 2016 is “audacious.” The only thing that is “audacious” is the web of misleading information FPL’s CEO spins to cover FPL’s anemic commitment to solar for a utility their size (4.8 million customer accounts). FPL’s whole game falls apart the minute you do the math and get to the facts.
What’s the real story? Is FPL’s solar goal audacious? Is FPL a solar leader, or a solar laggard? How do FPL and the other Florida investor owned utilities compare to leading peer utilities in the Southeast region and the nation when it comes to solar development?
Since power companies vary in size, the best apples to apples comparison for answering those questions is through a metric called solar watts per customer. Solar watts per customer measures how much solar electric output (watts) a utility has installed per customer. The Smart Electric Power Alliance, formerly called the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), a national educational non-profit that conducts research and collaboration to help utilities deploy solar and other distributed energy resources, uses the “solar watts per customer” metric to fairly and accurately represent and rank the amount of solar installed in a utility’s territory.
Based on SACE’s analysis of large-scale and customer-sited solar projects currently installed or in the pipeline to be in operation by the end of 2017 in the Southeast, Florida’s investor owned utilities seriously lag peer utility leaders in solar watts per customer, both in the Southeast region and in the nation. In fact, they are bottom of class.
The numbers tell the story:
As of September 2016, Duke Energy Progress, which serves customers in North and South Carolina, is at 627 solar watts per customer. Duke Energy Florida? A paltry 26 solar watts per customer. By the end of 2017, Duke Energy Progress will install enough solar to move up to an impressive 927 solar watts per customer. Duke Energy Florida, on the other hand, is currently projected to remain at 26 solar watts per customer through the end of 2017.
The solar watts per customer analysis clearly reveals that all of Florida’s big power companies are huge laggards compared to both regional leaders and national leaders. This revelation reminds us that we all have to view FPL’s solar claims with great skepticism and look behind their misleading spin. FPL’s assertions that it is setting “audacious” goals and leading the advancement of clean solar energy for its customers are simply false and manipulative. Indeed simple math shows that they don’t stack up, but that does not stop FPL from spending millions of dollars in self congratulatory media ads pushing false information. Not only that – their claims mask nefarious aims.
FPL’s real agenda of course is to maximize its profits from selling power it owns, not to advance clean solar energy. Moreover, FPL is making false claims to bolster its image while at the same time trying to limit rooftop solar power in the Sunshine State. The big power companies have bankrolled a misleading amendment to the Florida Constitution – Amendment 1– that will pave the way for erecting barriers to customer-owned solar power.
Facts can sometimes be inconvenient, no matter how hard you spin them. FPL’s solar leader claims are as bogus as their claims that utility-backed Amendment 1 will promote solar and protect consumers. In fact,
- Amendment 1 is funded by Florida’s big utilities to protect their monopoly markets and limit customer-owned solar,
- Amendment 1 paves the way for barriers that would penalize solar customers, and
- Amendment 1 misleads Florida voters by promising rights and protections that Florida citizens already have.
In the closely divided 4-3 Supreme Court decision that approved Amendment 1 and secured it a place on the general election ballot, Justice Barbara Pariente wrote, “Let the pro-solar energy consumers beware. Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida’s major investor-owned electric utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo. The ballot title is affirmatively misleading by its focus on ‘Solar Energy Choice,’ when no real choice exists for those who favor expansion of solar energy.”
Florida utilities, through their political committee, Consumers for Smart Solar, have raised a staggering $21 million in an effort to get Amendment 1 on the ballot and convince voters to adopt it. Why are they spending this kind of money if not to protect their monopoly, their political power, and their profits?
Large-scale solar power is a key component of the state’s energy future – as are community-based and customer-owned solar. Having the right policies in place to facilitate the speedy deployment of clean solar energy at all scales is critical to public health, climate protection, and the economy. FPL should clearly be doing more solar on its own and supporting pro-solar policies for its customers – not making false claims about its performance and interfering with customers’ rights to help build a bridge to a cleaner energy future.