By Chris Marr
Duke Energy could double Florida’s solar power as part of a deal with clean energy advocates and business groups.
The company would add up to 700 megawatts of solar power to Florida’s grid by 2021 and stop billing customers for a halted nuclear project under a plan filed with state utility regulators Aug. 29. The parties to the settlement are asking the Florida Public Service Commission to consider it for approval by December so it can take effect in January 2018.
If Duke builds the full 700 megawatts of solar, it would approximately double the current amount of solar power generation installed in Florida. Other utilities in the state are working on another 600 megawatts of new solar plants.
Solar power in the Sunshine State could triple in the coming years as Duke and other utilities build out their renewable energy portfolios.
The company provided few specifics on most of its solar power plans. It expects to start construction in early 2018 on a 75-megawatt solar power plant in Hamilton County, Fla., the company’s sixth solar power plant in the state, it said. The company owns a total of 8,800 megawatts of power generation capacity in the state, dominated by fossil fuels and nuclear power.
The state has installed solar power capacity of 725 megawatts, or less than 1 percent of the state’s electricity demand, according to estimates from the Solar Energy Industries Association. The association ranks the state as having the third highest capacity for solar power but the 12th highest installed solar generation.
Other major electric utilities also have announced plans recently to expand their solar generation capacity in Florida. Florida Power & Light, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, built three solar plants in 2016, each with generation capacity of 74.5 megawatts. It plans to complete another eight plants of that size by March of 2018, adding almost 600 megawatts of solar power to the grid in Florida.
Gulf Power, a subsidiary of Southern Co., finished installation earlier this year of a solar power project for the U.S. Department of Defense. The company helped install 120 megawatts of solar generation across three U.S. Air Force and Navy bases in northwestern Florida. The equipment began generating power this summer.
Duke’s plan would settle disputes with a range of clean energy and business groups on such issues as the rates it charges customers for electricity and its continued customer billing to cover costs for a halted nuclear project in Levy County.
The plan calls for Duke to make capital investments of $6 billion over four years, and Duke would stop billing customers for the costs of the Levy project. The company said when announcing the settlement agreement it would no longer seek to move forward with the Levy project.
The plan embraces “smart technologies that are both good for consumers and the environment,” Stephen A. Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said in a written statement. Several other groups also indicated their support for the plan.
The company’s plan would let Duke build up to 50 megawatts of large-scale battery storage and install 500 electric-vehicle charging stations in the state. And it would call for Duke to collect data on customer-owned solar usage and related rate structures.
Harry Sideris, state president for Duke Energy in Florida, said in a statement the settlement would let the company make “smart investments that will offer customers more information, choices and control of their energy needs while also providing greater reliability.”
The proposed settlement has support from the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, the Florida Retail Federation, White Springs Agricultural Chemicals Inc., and Florida’s Office of Public Counsel, which represents the public’s interests in PSC proceedings.
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