Florida, a state with ample sunshine and a potentially plentiful solar power resource, is not a national leader in solar electrical production. One reason is that utility companies in the state remain adamantly opposed to broad-based adoption of rooftop solar panels installed by third parties such as Solar City.
But that doesn't mean the utilities won't install solar power production capacity themselves when they consider it to be in their own best interest. And this month, there's news that utility companies are set to make some major additions to Florida's solar electric capacity, in the form of utility-scale solar generating facilities.
SustainableBusiness.com has a report (see: "Florida Finally Gets Some Big Solar Projects"). "The state's dominant utility, Florida Power & Light (FPL) is building three solar farms, 74.5 megawatts (MW) each," the website reports. "It got a great deal for 1 million solar panels, which is why it's building all three projects at once: Manatee Solar Energy Center (762 acres in Parrish); Citrus Solar Energy Center (841 acres in DeSoto County); Babock Ranch Solar Energy Center (440 acres in Charlotte County). They all have easy access to transmission lines and are all on land owned by FPL. They will be finished this year."
"Florida has been struggling to add significant amounts of solar, weighed down by an anti-renewable energy governor and utilities dragging their feet," the website comments. "In 2014, because of utility lobbying, regulators voted to eliminate all solar incentives and cut utility energy efficiency programs 90%. FPL even got approval to charge customers $9 a month to fund construction of its solar projects."
The Sun-Sentinel reported on the utility's plans here (see: "FPL to invest $400 million to triple solar output," by Doreen Hemlock). "The Juno Beach-based utility has argued that solar energy is not cost-effective for Florida ratepayers, compared with investments in natural-gas or nuclear-energy projects," the paper reported. "But these three specific solar farms make financial sense now because of a 30 percent federal tax credit, FPL transmission equipment already installed nearby and the use of land that FPL already owns, said Jim Robo, chief executive of NextEra Energy, FPL's parent company."
Robo told analysts that the economics of solar don't add up for FPL without these unusual factors, the paper reported. But as PV panel prices fall, Robo said, solar is likely to pass a tipping point where this kind of panel project is independently cost-competitive with other forms of electrical generation. "We're very optimistic about doing more later in the decade," Robo said. Currently, the Sun-Sentinel reported, "FPL gets less than 1 percent of its energy from the sun and more than 70 percent from natural gas. The company is investing in natural gas pipelines into Florida and in natural-gas production in Oklahoma."