Hats Off to the Florida Public Service Commission for Approving the Nation’s Largest Community Solar Program

The innovative SolarTogether program will bring nearly 1.5 gigawatts (GW) of solar along with $1.8 billion of investment and an estimated 4,000 solar jobs to Florida over the next two years.

Bryan Jacob | March 4, 2020 | Energy Policy, Florida, Solar, Utilities

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) issued a statement yesterday when the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) unanimously approved the SolarTogether program proposed by Florida Power and Light (FPL) that SACE has been tracking for just over a year. SACE’s Executive Director, Dr. Stephen A. Smith said:

We applaud the Florida Public Service Commission for embracing a new, innovative solar program that will greatly expand access to solar power for customers, including low-income customers, and generate millions of dollars in projected economic benefits. There was a time when customers paid little mind to the source of their power. No longer. The Commission’s unanimous approval delivers a program that will help expand low-cost, clean, solar power options for the Sunshine State.

Today, we wanted to go a little deeper and talk about why the passage of SolarTogether is a huge win for Floridians.

Once completed, SolarTogether will be the largest community solar program in the country

Largest of its Kind

Of course, it’s huge in terms of the scale. Once completed, SolarTogether will be the largest community solar program in the country. In fact, by itself, it will double the amount of community solar we had in the entire United States as of last year. FPL will be constructing twenty projects of 74.5 megawatts (MW) each — for a total of 1,490 MW of solar and will reduce the need to build more fossil fuel plants that contribute to climate change.

Just two years ago, when SACE issued our first “Solar in the Southeast Annual Report, it only reflected 516 MW of solar for FPL. By last year’s report, FPL had already earned designation on our SunRiser list, demonstrating leading levels of planned solar growth over the next four years. That solar expansion will be evident in this year’s annual report, which you can expect this summer. The SolarTogether program will further accelerate that growth.

In the Ten-Year Site Plan that FPL filed with the Florida PSC last year, the utility effectively doubled the pace of its annual solar expansion. The site plan also expressed that approval of the SolarTogether program would further accelerate the FPL solar build-out. That program is now approved.

Clean Energy Economy in the Sunshine State to Benefit

SolarTogether is also huge in terms of the economic benefits it represents. According to FPL, “The innovative program is expected to generate $249 million in net cost savings for both participants and the general body of customers.” It will also represent $1.8 billion of solar investment during 2020-2021.

The projects to build out those 1,490 MW of solar will be a job-creation engine for the state. Last month, the Solar Foundation released its annual National Solar Jobs Census. The State of Florida gained 1,843 solar jobs in 2019 compared to 2018, bringing the total solar jobs in the state to 12,202 (second-most in the country behind California). The same report also included a statistic of about 3.3 jobs per MW of solar installed. We should anticipate that SolarTogether has the potential to create approximately 4,000 solar jobs over the next two years, as well.

Bringing the Power of the Sun to Sunshine State Residents

Starting later this month, FPL customers will be able to begin signing up for the program. Enrollment is expected to open on March 17, 2020. The utility has general information posted on the SolarTogether website.

Note: It may take a little while longer before enrollment can begin for the low-income component of the program. This was part of a settlement agreement SACE and other parties (Vote Solar and Walmart) reached with FPL. The utility is aware of the 3 million residents in its service territory living at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. This new aspect of the program creates an opportunity for qualifying customers to benefit from clean, renewable, solar energy with net savings from the very first month they enroll.

More than 120,000 families and small businesses have already expressed interest to participate in SolarTogether. It was this enthusiasm that helped persuade the PSC to approve the program.

SolarTogether Receives Unanimous Approval from Commissioners

The Commissioners had thoroughly examined the evidence prior to Tuesday’s decision. If you’re super interested, you can watch a recording of the March 3 Commission Conference. (The revised agenda addressed SolarTogether last.) They gave due consideration to the recommendations from Public Service Commission Staff and Office of Public Counsel (OPC), but also considered how this proposed program supports the State’s policy to embrace renewable energy. Commissioner Julie Brown highlighted the carbon reduction benefits associated with SolarTogether, while Commissioner Donald Polmann expressed that the PSC purview is on the basis of public interest to the Sunshine State as a whole — not just participants versus non-participants (which had become the focus of Staff and OPC objections).

Commissioner Andrew Fay made one of the most significant comments, expressing how difficult it is to apply 1951 statutes to evaluate a brand new design. Indeed FPL created something unique and different — a breed of community/shared solar that none of us had ever seen before. Commissioner comments echoed the words “new” and they were careful to point out that they would have to review the details of any subsequent, similar proposals on a case-by-case basis. But, as our Executive Director wrote in a Tampa Bay Times op-ed last week, “a novel design shouldn’t be a roadblock to delivering cost-effective solar energy to customers.”

In the end, the Commission voted to unanimously approve SolarTogether (5-0).

Kudos from SACE.

We’ll continue to track the SolarTogether program and look forward to seeing more ambitious solar plans from other Southeastern utilities.

Bryan Jacob
Bryan joined the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in June 2017. As Solar Program Director, Bryan leads activities to promote solar power across the Southeast. These activities range from conducting…
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