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FPL proposes installing 1.49 GW for 'largest community solar program' in US

Florida Power & Light Co. plans to install 1,490 MW of new solar capacity as part of a new community solar program filed with the state Public Service Commission on March 13.

The utility proposed building 20 "cost-effective" new solar power plants across its service territory to meet anticipated customer enrollment in the program, allowing customers of Florida Power & Light, or FPL, to subscribe to a portion of the new solar capacity and receive credits for the savings on monthly bills. The projects are estimated to cost an average of $1,202/kW, or approximately $1.79 billion, including the 1,490 MW of generation and program administration costs, according to the filing.

The "FPL SolarTogether" program, which the utility called the "largest community solar program" in the U.S., will more than double the nation's current amount of community solar capacity, according to the news release. The U.S. has installed a total of 1,298 MW of community solar though the third quarter of 2018, according to the Solar Energy Industry of America.

The solar plants attributed to the program are projected to generate an estimated $139 million in net savings for customers over the long term, primarily from avoided fuel and other system savings, the NextEra Energy Inc. subsidiary said. The program allows participating customers to achieve a payback on their subscription within seven years. The utility said it will also retire renewable energy certificates on behalf of participants looking to meet sustainability goals.

FPL said it has already received commitments from more than 200 of its largest energy users, including municipalities, large national retail chains, universities, banks, restaurants and schools, for participation in the program through a pre-registration period. Those commitments represent a total reserved capacity of approximately 1,100 MW, with many of those customers reserving a subscription equal to 75% to 100% of their annual energy usage, the utility said in the filing.

Of the total planned capacity, 1,117.5 MW, or 75%, would be allocated to commercial, industrial and government customers and the remaining 372.5 MW, or 25%, would be allocated to residential and small business customers, according to the filing. The utility proposed a monthly subscription rate of $6.76/kW. The benefit rate starts at 3.42881 cents per kWh and will go up to $5.20540 per kWh.

"This innovative program is another major step forward in our '30-by-30' plan, which is one of the world's largest solar expansions, and also an unprecedented opportunity for our customers to harness the power of the sun like never before," Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL, said. In January, FPL announced its "30-by-30" initiative to install more than 30 million additional solar panels across Florida and reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

The first six solar projects, each of which will have about 300,000 solar panels and be capable of generating 74.5 MW of electricity, are scheduled to enter commercial operation in early 2020, with the remaining 14 facilities planned for 2021. The utility said it has already secured land to build those plants and plans to announce the individual locations in the future.

The program also would eliminate the need to add 500 MW of battery capacity and one combustion turbine in the 2020-2023 period as the 20 installations are assumed to provide firm capacity, the utility said.

In response to FPL's announcement, the Coalition for Community Solar Access called for competitive community solar markets in order to realize better cost savings for customers and a more resilient electric grid.

"It's great to see FPL recognizing that its customers are overwhelmingly demanding solar energy. But, we should be harnessing competition and innovation to allow Americans to choose local, clean, affordable power and not let monopoly utilities decide what power choices are best for customers," the coalition said in an emailed statement.