Southern Company and Duke backing solar Florida

Are all the fracking utitilies finally seeing the sunlight? By Backing solar power in Florida, are Duke, Southern Company, TECO, and even FPL’s parent NextEra hedging their bets, or finally realizing where the future is?

Reem Nasr, CNBC, 12 June 2015, The sleeping giant of the solar industry: Florida,

Duke Energy Florida told CNBC that it “is a strong supporter of solar energy and we are committed to helping to grow solar in Florida.” Last month it announced an additional 500 megawatts of solar facilities by 2024, among other solar projects.

Meanwhile in May Duke Energy of Charlotte, North Carolina bought 7.5% of Sabal Trail, along with Spectra Energy of Houston and NextEra Energy of Juno Beach, Florida.

Southern Co., which owns Florida’s Gulf Power, said the following:

“Southern Company is strategically developing solar as part of the full portfolio of energy resources needed to provide customers clean, safe, reliable and affordable power. As part of this commitment, subsidiary Gulf Power recently announced that the Florida Public Service Commission approved three solar projects totaling 120 megawatts, in addition to other customer-focused solar efforts.”

That fits with SO subsidiary Georgia Power doing four 30 MW each military solar projects in Georgia, plus buying into civilian solar farms 99 MW at a time. Such Georgia Power projects have led to Georgia leading the country in solar jobs. Georgia Power even claimed credit for the solar financing law that passed this year, and weeks before it took effect July 1st, Georgia Power advertised that it would start selling rooftop solar panels on that date.

This stuff didn’t happen in a vacuum. People across Georgia led by Georgia Sierra Club and others agitated for it for several years, including in June 2013 lobbying the Georgia Public Service Commission to get Georgia Power to buy twice as much solar power as it wanted. Apparently Georgia Power and its parent Southern Company decided they like that. Ever since the May 2015 Southern Company stockholder meeting, SO CEO Tom Fanning has been saying “If somebody wants to buy distributed generation, I want to sell it to ’em.”

Southern Company is now bragging on facebook about Georgia leading and SO’s part in that, noting

The Atlanta Business Chronicle says our solar projects play a major role in making Georgia the number 1 destination for clean energy jobs.

Carla Caldwell, ABC, 1 July 2015, Report: Georgia No. 1 for clean energy jobs,

In Georgia, solar installation projects helped make it the No. 1 state for clean energy job announcements in Q1. Five projects, which will cumulatively produce 382 megawatts of power from solar cells across 3,500 acres in Taylor County, could create approximately 2,000 jobs.

Major electric utility Southern Company (NYSE: SO) will purchase power from at least one of the projects, and others are lining up for the rest, the group said.

Yet Southern Company also still builds new natural gas plants, and hasn’t taken a position regarding the fracked methane pipeline Sabal Trail wants to gouge through SO territory, even though Southern Company Services intervened with FERC on the Sabal Trail docket back in December.

Back to the CNBC story:

Tampa Electric told CNBC that it “believes in the promise of renewable energy, such as solar power, because it plays an important role in our energy future. We have a long history of developing solar power, and we will continue to explore ways to increase our investment in a cost-effective manner that is fair to all customers.

“We now have more than 600 customers with their own solar arrays, and we will continue to work with customers who want to connect to our system,” the company added.

Yet Kinder Morgan filed with FERC in March to build a pipeline for TECO across north Florida to Jacksonville that explicitly will connect to Sabal Trail if Sabal Trail requests that.

CNBC also reached out to Florida Power & Light, which did not respond to the request for comment.

Yet even FPL’s parent NextEra, which is the founding partner and $3 billion funder of Sabal Trail, bought Hawaii’s biggest utility in December for $4.3 billion in what Bloomberg called “Green Energy Test”, saying at the time:

“You can think about Hawaii as a postcard from the future of what’s going to happen in the electric industry in the United States,” James Robo, chairman and chief executive officer of Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra, said by phone interview yesterday. “As renewable generation gets cheaper, as electric storage becomes more efficient and possible, all electric utilities are going to have to face this.”

Sooner rather than later. After all, the rosiest Wall Street projections for shale gas growth are for 56% over 28 years, while solar power deployment already increased 200% over 2 years, 2012-2014. That continues a long-term trend of solar power doubling every two years, and that’s a factor of four seen over four years. Which means that former FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff was right back in 2013 when he predicted that more U.S. electricity would come from solar than any other source within 10 years. Which is eight more years, by 2023.

Solar power has exponential growth like compound interest, with fast, cheap, clean installations, while fracked methane only grows through slow, difficult, permitting processes followed by multi-year buildouts for each pipeline, with court cases for eminent domain and massive resistance by everybody from Riverkeepers to reclusive right wing landowners. It doesn’t take a prophet to see that SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive is right:

“Solar will win eventually, it always does.”

As Al Gore said recently:

“We’re going to win this.

“The only question is how long it takes.”

That and will solar win fast enough to stop the current fracked methane boondoggles.

Now what if Florida the sleeping solar giant finally does what even Georgia just did, and change its

…laws in Florida that prohibit third-party power purchase agreements (PPAs). In a state like California, a solar company can lend panels to a homeowner and then sell the power generated by those panels directly to the owner—usually at a cheaper rate than a traditional utility bill.

But that isn’t allowed in Florida. Nor can a homeowner sell power generated on his or her private property to anyone else, such as neighbors or tenants for example. In essence, the only entity that can sell power in Florida, no matter where it is generated, is a regulated utility company. Florida is one out of only a handful of states that do not allow third-party PPAs.

SolarCity relies heavily on such models in its business plan. That is why currently, the company barely does business in the state.

“Solar gives consumers choice, control and financial savings, plus it stimulates the local economy by creating jobs,” Rive said. “The incumbent does everything possible to prevent disruption.”

Well, the incumbent utility in Georgia just backed changing state PPA restrictions, and its parent company is pushing solar in Florida, too. So if Georgia can do it, even Florida can do it.

You can help Floridians for Solar Choice make it happen. Florida is one of only four states left that prohibit Power Purchase Agreements, and by far the most populous. When Florida goes, so goes the nation.

Where’s your fracking pipeline to LNG export boondoggle then, fossil fuel industry?