A recent press release by FPL (formerly Florida Power and Light) talks highly of on-going solar construction. FPL exclaims that they’ve built 300MW of solar power across eight power plants. They also communicate that FPL is the largest holder of solar resources in Florida – 375MW.
It’s a facade.
FPL has worked very hard to manipulate the public and political machinations of rulemaking. And this political harm means Florida is lagging in the solar race – despite being the Sunshine State – because of bureaucratic capture of the legislative bodies and aggressive, misleading advertising against public-led solar movements.
One could very easily chalk this up to something like ‘that’s politics in the big city.’ And you’d be correct – but that doesn’t make the situation smart. In 2016, Florida – third largest state in population and twenty-second largest in area – wasn’t in the top ten of installed solar power. FPL’s installation volumes announced are actually paltry totals. There are individual power plants larger than all of FPL’s current and planned solar.
Historically, the argument has been that making solar “cost-effective” in Florida has proven difficult. Even after announcing plans to increase its solar generation capacity by 225 megawatts by the end of next year, FPL said last week that “solar power — even the most economical large-scale installation — is generally not yet cost-effective in FPL’s service area.”
The argument is based upon the cloudiness of Florida. Solar power plants in the southwest of the USA – where NextERA, FPL’s parent company, builds and owns facilities – get seven to eight ‘noon time sun hours’ every day. In South Florida, FPL’s territory – that number is closer to five hours. True – less sunlight than the deserts of Arizona, still double the sunlight of Germany (and we know what Germany has done).
And we’ll give FPL some credit for keeping the price of electricity reasonable – 8-12¢/kWh. It makes it harder to convince people invest in a new technology when the current technology is so reasonably priced…of course, reasonably polluting as well.
The arguments from FPL would be sound – “solar doesn’t fit in Florida” – if we didn’t have evidence of two things. One – FPL is trying its hardest to stop free market development of solar power. And second – what solar actually costs in 2017.
FPL has wrested control of the Public Service Commission via the politicians who pick them using consistent, omnipresent lobbying. The purpose of the Public Service Commission is to act as an arbiter, in favor of the general public, to balance the monopolistic powers that come with the large amounts of money that power companies are given permission to earn. Florida power corporations have breached the wall that defends the people.
More ominous than the standard political cash purchases are tens of millions of dollars spent trying to control the public via amazingly deceptive legislation wording. Last year, the Miami Herald broke the story open about how the electricity utilities “use a little bit of political jiu-jitsu” to steal the sun. Among the more nuanced political attacks I’ve seen in a while came from the Herald story:
“To the degree that we can use a little bit of political jiu-jitsu and take what they’re kind of pinning us on and use it to our benefit either in policy, in legislation or in constitutional referendums — if that’s the direction you want to take — use the language of promoting solar, and kind of, kind of put in these protections for consumers that choose not to install rooftop.”
FPL and other utilities backed the above actions with more than $20 million. Voters rejected it as they learned its highly misrepresentative nature.
And the worst part of this legislation wasn’t that it tried to trick people into supporting it, but that the legislation was actually being used to hide another piece of legislation by confusing the population about what they were even voting on.
A group named Florida Solar Choice crafted a piece of legislation that would allow individuals the right to buy solar electricity from anyone who built a solar plant. For instance, imagine you own a house and want solar power – but don’t want to pay a lot of upfront money. Well, like a million people in the USA – you’d want to call someone like SolarCity or SunRun or Vivint and ‘lease’ your rooftop in exchange for solar power. If you own a large commercial property – you’re allowed to lease an air conditioner system, you’re allowed to lease anything…but you cannot lease your own roof to sell you electricity.
FPL fights tooth and nail to block third parties from selling you electricity. Florida is one of four states that outlaw third-party leasing.
FPL has shown clearly, via this press release and their prior actions, that they’re just like other electric utilities who are trying their hardest to protect profits even if it harms the environment. And the utilities know that they’re harming the planet’s health – it’s been the policy of the Electric Edison Institute to lie to the public about climate change since the 1960s.
The electric utilities are within a complex time. They’re being attacked by a fundamental shift in how business is done. They aren’t structured in a way to make money off of you and I making electricity. So they go the path of buying the machines that should manage them. And they buy them with money from your own bills – and while it’s against the rules, it’s still happening.
Recognize the dynamics of this situation and don’t fall for the BS headlines. Florida is failing in solar power deployment because of FPL and others. People’s health and bills, the environment and the planet are bearing the consequences.