Florida Power and Light’s Solar Together program deserves state approval | Column
A novel design shouldn’t be a roadblock to delivering cost-effective solar energy to customers.
Bill Lehmiller installs a solar panel on the roof of the Tampa International Airport economy parking garage.
Bill Lehmiller installs a solar panel on the roof of the Tampa International Airport economy parking garage. [ BORCHUCK, JAMES | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Feb. 27, 2020

Demand for solar power has never been greater in the Sunshine State. Florida families and businesses want to make a real difference in tackling climate change by adopting clean renewable energy sources. Yet, instead of heralding the nation’s largest proposed community solar program that can help meet that demand, antiquated bureaucratic thinking is threatening its growth.

The Florida Public Service Commission, the governmental agency that regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities, will vote on Tuesday on whether to approve the Solar Together program proposed by Florida Power & Light and supported by businesses like Walmart and 7-Eleven, numerous counties and cities, environmental groups, and others. For us, this program is a no-brainer and long overdue. Unfortunately, despite diverse support, it is facing opposition from the state’s public counsel and the PSC’s technical staff, mainly because it is this program is new and different from other programs they have seen before.

A novel design shouldn’t be a roadblock to delivering cost-effective solar energy to customers. We need to embrace this clean power that dramatically cuts carbon emissions, will protect our coast, and will help propel the Sunshine State to a leader in community solar development.

Stephen Smith
Stephen Smith [ Provided by Stephen Smith ]

Today, many Floridians are left behind when it comes to participating in solar energy because they rent their homes, live in apartments, have shaded roofs or other reasons. Likewise, many businesses and local governments face hurdles to participating in solar, yet they increasingly want to capture the tangible benefits of it.

That’s where innovative thinking comes in.

FPL’s SolarTogether program is a unique voluntary community solar program designed to meet the needs of anyone – including those left-behind customers – by delivering tangible economic benefits customers can count on while also driving in-state solar development. It will ensure that FPL builds 20 new solar power plants in the next year, creating new jobs and making the state’s energy supply more diverse and resilient. The program would allow flexible participation with no upfront fees, no long-term contracts and no cancellation fees for leaving the program. If you subscribe and later move within FPL’s service area, you can take your subscription with you. It will also enable participation by low-income customers – an important feature envisioned by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Vote Solar.

Perhaps the strongest endorsement comes from customers themselves. FPL estimates that more than 120,000 people have already expressed interest in participating. This is because the program is projected to generate millions of dollars in savings over time for all FPL customers, flowing from the simple fact that once you build the solar facilities there are no ongoing fuel cost.

Bottom line: Sometimes a new approach is necessary. There was a time when electricity was a commodity and consumers paid little mind to the source of their power.

No longer.

Customers want clean, low-cost solar power. Utility regulators must adapt to the changing times and not be afraid to embrace innovation. SolarTogether deserves approval by the Florida Public Service Commission.

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Stephen Smith is the executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a nonprofit regional organization that works to transform the way the Southeast produces and consumes energy through environmental and energy policy.