Florida approves ‘largest’ community solar project in US

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Florida Power & Light Company is based in Juno Beach, Florida. Source: Milan Boers, Flickr

Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) is set to develop the “largest” community solar project in the US after receiving the go-ahead from state regulators on Tuesday.

FPL's project will comprise 20 solar plants with a cumulative capacity of 1.49GW. Construction costs are pegged at US$1.752 billion, or US$1,176 per kW.

In a statement, FPL CEO Eric Silagy touted the FPL Solar Together project as the “largest shared solar programme in the country,” with its approval marking “significant forward progress for the solar landscape of not only Florida but the entire United States.”

The development has been backed by solar advocacy groups Vote Solar and the Southern Alliance for Green Energy,  as well as by local cities, counties, and prospective corporate customers, 7-Eleven and Walmart.

Should FPL's 1.49GW project be fully deployed as planned, it will represent a sizeable chunk of the 3.5GW of community solar expected over the next five years by US solar body the SEIA.

FPL expects the community project to generate about US$112 million in savings for customers throughout its lifetime, and US$249 million in net cost savings for participants and customers.

The 20 plants will be split into five clusters with individual project capacity sitting at 74.5MW, according to a post-hearing brief filed by FPL to Florida’s Public Service Commission (FPSC) on 30 January. The plants are expected to be commissioned by mid-2021.

By 2023, roughly 30% of total non-residential PV capacity in the US will come from community solar, according to the SEIA.

Project deemed in public interest by public service commission

Despite opposition to the project from the state’s Office of Public Counsel, the FPSC “approved the Settlement Agreement because this unique solar program is in the public interest of the State of Florida, and offers FPL customers the opportunity to advance renewable energy in Florida,” according to FPSC Chairman Gary Clark.

Participating customers will subscribe to a portion of new solar power capacity and will receive, in return, credits expected to reduce their monthly bills over time.

Initially, 75% of capacity, or 1,117.5MW, will be allocated to commercial, industrial and state customers. The remaining 25% will be earmarked for residential and small business customers, of which 10% will be preserved for low-income customers. 

“For years, access to solar energy for many Floridians was not economical or easily accessible,” FPL’s Silagy said. “Now, FPL SolarTogether will provide more of our customers access to the environmental and financial benefits of solar generation regardless of where they live or how much money they make while helping increase fuel diversity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and launch Florida into a leadership position for solar energy.”

Competitive tenders for panels, power conversion units, step-up transformers, substation and interconnection facilities and EPC contractors were held by FPL in 2018 and 2019, according to documents submitted by FPL to the FPSC.

Enrolment for the programme will open on 17 March 2020.

The prospects and challenges of solar's new era in the US will take centre stage at Large Scale Solar USA 2020 (Austin, Texas, on 23-24 June 2020).

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