In a place known as the Sunshine State, it would seem solar electricity would be natural.
But when it comes to tapping the sun, Progress Energy, the state's second-largest utility and the Tampa Bay area's major energy supplier, is barely on the grid.
The utility says it wants solar as part of its energy plan, but for now, large-scale solar remains out of reach — it's just too expensive.
"We do see very positive signs in regard to cost and technology," said Scott Sutton, a spokesman for Progress Energy. "One of the biggest obstacles to solar is that it is much more expensive."
Germany and Switzerland drew worldwide attention last month when they announced after the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan that they plan to phase out nuclear power and focus on solar.
If Germany can do it, why not Florida?
As Sutton noted, cost is a large part of the problem. In addition, even with all of the sunshine in Florida, current solar technology won't generate electricity at night, so it can't be used as a primary source until significant ways to store the energy are developed, which also can be costly.
Instead of trying to develop solar farms itself, Progress Energy — which sees itself as more of a nuclear and coal expert than solar — is looking to third-party companies to generate solar electricity that Progress can buy.
Construction on Progress Energy Florida's first large-scale solar electric source is set to begin next month. Blue Chip Energy is building a solar farm on roughly 200 acres of rural land in Lake County. Progress Energy contracted with Blue Chip to purchase solar electricity.
The facility, the largest privately owned solar farm in Florida and one of the largest in the United States, will power about 8,000 homes. But the site's total capacity will be less than 1 percent of Progress Energy's total electric capacity.
Progress has contracts that would add 10 times the amount of solar electricity as the Lake County solar farm, but because of cost, it is unclear when those projects will be developed.
"There is no deadline for these to come online," Sutton said. "If it came online tomorrow … we would absolutely purchase it."
When they are complete, "we would have one of the largest amounts of solar power in the nation other than California," he said.
But with no deadline for development, it could be a long wait.
Some states like California offer incentives for development of renewable energy to speed up construction. Florida's state lawmakers considered a renewable energy policy, but it did not make it through the legislative session.
The state did offer a onetime incentive that FPL, the state's largest utility, snatched up and used to build three solar electric power sites. FPL was allowed to recover the costs by adding 25 cents per 1,000 kilowatt hours of usage to customers' bills each month. With FPL using up that incentive, there are no other such offers currently available through the state.
FPL is now the largest solar electric power generator in the state and one of the top 10 in the nation, according to the Solar Electric Power Association in Washington, D.C.
Even so, the solar capacity of FPL's three sites make up less than 1 percent of FPL electric power. Customers are paying the extra quarter each month to get even that much power.
"We think that's a good deal for our customers," said Mark Bubriski, a spokesman for FPL. "The up-front costs of solar are higher."
Michael Taylor, director of research for the Solar Electric Power Association, said as costs decline, solar will become more competitive in Florida.
"Right now, solar is probably more expensive than the retail rates in Florida," Taylor said.
To encourage consumers to add solar to their own homes, Progress Energy does have a smaller program that provides rebates of $2 per watt of customer-installed solar products such as a solar water-heating system. The utility has a $1 million cap on that rebate program, and it is already all but exhausted.
"We really do believe solar is going to play a role in a balanced energy plan," Sutton said, "but solar is not quite ready for mainstream."
Ivan Penn can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Consumers_Edge and find the Consumer's Edge on Facebook.