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Florida 100% renewables bill likely to struggle, even as Duke adds solar

Highlights

Duke spending $1 billion on solar through 2022

Sets aggressive 'mid-century max-out' target

As Duke Energy Florida adds solar generation capacity, legislation that would require all of Florida's power to come from renewable sources by 2050 may be difficult to turn into law, a ClearView Energy Partners analyst said Tuesday.

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On Monday, Duke Energy Florida announced plans to locate two 75-MW solar farms, one in Hamilton County and another in Columbia County. Both are in northern Florida, about midway between Jacksonville and Tallahassee, and both are scheduled to be complete in late 2020.

Duke is in the process of spending about $1 billion to build or acquire 700 MW of solar power from 2018 through 2022 in Florida, and Duke plans to build another 1,500 MW of solar through 2028.

The Smart Electric Power Alliance estimates Florida had about 1,390 MW of utility-scale solar online in 2018, more than double the US Energy Information Administration's count of 514 MW in 2017. By 2024, S&P Global Platts Analytics estimates Florida will have about 6.6 GW of solar installed.

Duke Energy Florida plans

In December, Duke Energy Florida completed the 45-MW Lake Placid Solar Power plant in Highlands County, about 140 miles south of Orlando, and the 75 MW Trenton Solar Power Plant in Gilchrist County, west of Gainesville, Florida.

In April, Duke expects to turn on another 75-MW solar plant in Columbia County, and a 74.5 MW solar plant is to start up in June in Volusia County on Florida's Atlantic Coast.

Florida currently has no renewable portfolio standard, but in September, Democratic lawmakers submitted Senate Bill 256 and House Bill 97, which had their first readings January 14.

SB 256 includes more detail, requiring the Florida Public Service Commission to present draft rules by February 1, 2021, about implementing the new RPS by February 1, 2021. The Legislature would have to adopt the rules for them to be enforceable.

"The commission may include provision in the rule for annual cost recovery and incentive-based adjustments to authorized rates of return on common equity to providers to incentivize renewable energy," SB 256 states.

The bill also provides for "conditions under which noncompliance is excused due to a determination by the commission that the supply of renewable energy or renewable energy credits was not adequate to supply the demand for such energy or that the cost of securing renewable energy or renewable energy credits was cost prohibitive."

Once the rules are finalized, each electricity provider would be required to report on the following April 1 about that provider's steps toward achieving the RPS.

SB 256 also requires all state entities, including agencies and colleges, to obtain all of their energy from renewable resources by 2050.

HB 97 requires the Office of Energy within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services "to develop a unified statewide plan to generate 100 percent of the state's electricity from renewable energy by 2050." That plan is to be submitted to the governor, the president of the state Senate and the Speaker of the state House by January 1, 2022, with updates on each January 1 thereafter.

The EIA reports that about 72% of Florida's electricity came from natural gas in 2018, up from about 69% in 2017. The next largest category in 2018 was coal with 13.5%, down from 16.8% in 2017.

'Mid-century max-out'

Timothy Fox, vice president and research analyst at the ClearView Energy Partners consultancy, said his organization has labeled the trend of states setting 100% clean energy or renewable energy by 2050 as the "mid-century max-out."

So far, 14 states or jurisdictions have set such targets, representing 39% of the US population, 21% of net electricity generation and 26% of electricity consumption, as of 2018, Fox said in an email Tuesday.

If Florida enacts SB 256, "the Sunshine State would represent one of the most aggressive mid-century max-out targets," Fox said, because the bill does the following:

  • Narrowly defines the type of energy to be used as renewable (therefore, not nuclear or coal with carbon capture and sequestration)
  • Sets a binding goal with consequences for noncompliance
  • Provides little leeway to repeal the goal, except if federal rules make the state standard moot

"That said, we remain skeptical that lawmakers in Florida, a state without an existing renewable power mandate, would proverbially 'jump to the front of the pack,'" Fox said. "First, we have never seen a [largely Republican] state like Florida advance aggressive decarbonization targets."

Also, US Energy Information Administration data shows that in 2018, renewable power represented just over 1% of Florida's net electricity generation in 2018, Fox said, which means renewable advocates would likely have limited influence in policymaking.

"Third, past bills in Florida to set renewable power programs have failed to advance beyond committee hearings," Fox said.