NewEnergyNews: ORIGINAL REPORTING: Florida's solar turnaround sparks community solar debate

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    Wednesday, October 02, 2019

    ORIGINAL REPORTING: Florida's solar turnaround sparks community solar debate

    Florida's solar turnaround sparks concerns over limits on community projects; Falling solar costs and new customer demand let the Sunshine State earn its nickname

    Herman K. Trabish, May 9, 2019 (Utility Dive)

    Editor’s note: Floridian solar advocates report debates on community solar continue as their state remains largely in the honeymoon boom period on solar incentives described here.

    A remarkable turnaround is happening with Florida solar. And while it's still evolving, it's also eliciting concerns in a number of areas. As recently as 2015, the Sunshine State was headed toward over-reliance on natural gas, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. That year, utilities and solar advocates faced off over a ballot initiative on solar leasing which was defeated in the 2016 election. But then things changed.

    Florida Power and Light (FPL), the biggest of Florida's three top investor-owned utilities (IOUs), is targeting over 8 GW of utility-scale solar by 2030. Duke Energy Florida (DEF) has committed to 700 MW and Tampa Electric Company (TECO) has committed to 600 MW, both by 2022. The Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) has seen 150% distributed solar growth per year for the past four years. And the state sees promise of even more growth, for distributed solar specifically. In 2018, the Florida Public Service Commission bypassed political turmoil and made solar leasing available to distributed solar customers who choose not to invest the upfront capital to own their arrays.

    Florida's growth is the result of economic factors, customer demand and policies that support utility-scale solar, community solar and distributed solar. Many are asking how big this boom will get, but a better question may be how this growth will evolve as its impact sparks responses by utilities, solar developers and policymakers.

    In the once anti-solar Southeast, Florida led a 65% solar growth surge in 2018, reaching 2,215 MWs, according to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy's (SACE) Solar in the Southeast report. North Carolina ranked second nationally at 5,261 MW and other southern states trailed not far behind, with Georgia ranking 11th and South Carolina ranking 18th, at 1,571 MW and 662 MW, respectively.The region's 10,579 MW will near 20,000 by 2022, according to SACE.

    Florida "is the headline state in the Southeast this year" and "will have built more solar than North Carolina by 2022," SACE Solar Program Director and report lead author Bryan Jacob told Utility Dive. Because community solar and distributed solar are just beginning to emerge in Florida's market, utility-scale solar accounts for about 88% of the Southeast's installed capacity, and four of the region's seven utility growth leaders are in Florida — FPL, TECO, OUC and Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) — and are expected to lead through 2022, SACE reported. "And FPL's 2019 commitments will make it a leader for the next decade and make Florida a key story this year," Jacob added.

    "Florida utilities are doing solar in many different ways," Vote Solar Southeast Director Katie Ottenweller told Utility Dive. "And best practices are emerging." Cost was a main driver for utilities, in part supported by the Solar Base Rate Adjustment, which allows utilities to recover costs through rates. Though controversial because it has limited private sector growth and allowed utilities to dominate deployment, "it catalyzed solar growth in Florida," Jacob said… click here for more

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