Duke Energy Florida spokesman Sterling Ivey said the utility plans to add 500 MW of solar power in Florida over the next ten years. “As the cost for solar continues to decrease, we believe it is reasonable to consider solar as part of our long range program plan. The long range program plan we filed this week projects customer usage and how we will meet customer demand over the next 10 years.”
Duke Energy, which serves 1.7 million customers from Central Florida through parts of the Panhandle, expects to have the first five megawatts of solar energy added to its grid by the end of this year. Another 30 megawatts should be available by 2018, according to Jacksonville Channel 4 News.
Adding 500 megawatts of solar power would more than double the state’s current solar production of 234 megawatts, placing it 13th in solar power among all 50 states. The announcement from Duke Energy Florida says the new solar energy facilities, together with plans for a natural gas fired facility in Citrus County and upgrades at its Hines plant in Polk County “will enable the company to meet a significant need for additional generation beginning in 2018 and to retire half of its Florida coal-fired fleet by that same year.”
Other Florida utilities are planning to add solar facilities to their systems as well. Gulf Power, headquartered in Pensacola, has announced it will add 120 megawatts of utility scale solar power at three military bases in Northwest Florida. Another 225 megawatts of utility-scale solar may be added to the state’s grid over the next two years by Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest power company. FPL currently has 110 megawatts of solar power available for its customers.
Stephen Smith, of the Floridians for Solar Choice coalition, calls Duke’s announcement “welcomed” yet “underwhelming.” He says “This is a classic strategy that we see the investor-owned utilities do. They put out a press statement. They talk about big numbers. But the numbers are way out into the future. They try to generate some good media. But unless you study what they’re doing, you don’t see most of this isn’t going to happen until 2020 or beyond.” Smith adds that both Georgia and North Carolina are way ahead of Florida, with both expected to surpass 1,000-megawatts of solar within the next two years.
In the political background, solar advocates are pushing a ballot initiative in Florida that would weaken the monopoly that existing utility companies currently enjoy. It would provide a boost to home and small business solar installation and pave the way for community solar projects that would be independent of the utilities. The Florida Supreme Court is currently reviewing the language for that ballot question. Supporters hope to put the question on the ballot in time for the next statewide elections in November, 2016.