Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Opinion

Ruth: Duke Energy gives nod to solar, so why can't Gov. Rick Scott?

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You might remember the scene a few days ago when Florida Gov. Rick Scott grudgingly relented and sat down with a group of scientists for a briefing on the effects of climate change, mankind's role in the looming environmental crisis and what might be done to help the state avoid being turned into a giant flume ride in the not-too-distant future.

A pained Scott looked like a teenager, albeit bald, being sent to detention hall. He sat for 30 minutes listening to the experts before exiting the room without asking a meaningful question. Fearful of losing the Luddite vote, Scott has assiduously run away from all things remotely linked to science — because no good politically comes from spending time with people who know what they are talking about.

So you have to wonder what the governor made of a recent announcement on the part of Duke Energy, one of Scott's more generous campaign contributors, that it wants to explore a location in Pinellas County for creating a solar energy farm.

You have to give the Snidely Whiplash of kilowatts its due. The power giant might be pistol-whipping its customers by collecting billions of dollars in nuclear recovery fees for a shuttered nuke plant it will never bring back on, or for a proposed nuke plant it will never build. And it recently announced it intended to stiff customers by tacking an extra 12 days on their billing cycle, thus charging for power at a higher rate than normal, simply because it can.

But even Duke Energy can find an acorn now and then. The company has acknowledged there is a role for alternative energy to play in keeping the juice flowing.

The Duke cartel is considering about 22 acres of county-owned land off 119th Street between Ulmerton and Washington roads. Once operational, the solar energy farm would feed power to the grid.

At the very least, Duke Energy is conceding what the governor of the fourth-largest state in the union seems incapable of admitting — that solar ought to have a part in satisfying our power needs.

There is certainly the probability Duke is taking the merest, the teensiest, the most modest shuffle toward exploring solar in order to position itself to compete with the small but growing individual solar power panel market.

That's the good news. But don't get too excited just yet.

Given Duke Energy's penchant for passing along costs to its victims, would anyone be surprised to discover a "solar panel recovery fee" to develop a 22-acre facility showing up on the monthly or bimonthly statement, or whenever the utility feels like sending you a bill?

And how much would that be? Well, you can't put too high a price on the complex intricacies of utility industry accounting.

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