TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—If you don’t use solar power, then you won’t have to pay for it.
That’s what the Florida Public Service Commission, the state electric utility regulatory body, decided last week when it approved Florida Power and Light’s new solar energy pilot program by a vote of 4-1.
The plan will expand customer access to solar power in at least three large communities within Florida Power and Light’s 35-county territory—Sarasota, West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale—without forcing non-participating customers to subsidize the program.
Ratepayers can “volunteer” a $9-per-month contribution for solar energy.
Instead, interested ratepayers can sign up and “volunteer” a $9-per-month contribution beginning in 2015 to cover the costs of building new solar arrays to to convert solar power into electricity.
Florida Power and Light says its Voluntary Solar Partnership plan will help gauge actual customer demand for the more expensive source of electricity. The more customers sign up, the more the utility will expand its solar capacity.
Green groups aren’t buying it.
“The biggest flaw is it does not provide a direct economic benefit to participating customers,” said George Cavros, a Florida energy policy attorney for SACE.
Cavros argued program participants should receive lower utility bills for using solar.
“That’s really an issue of subsidization,” Commissioner Eduardo E. Balbis said to Cavros.
According to Florida Power and Light, about $19,000 in solar energy savings would result from a $500,000 solar array investment. Solar arrays are a linked collection of smaller solar panels spread over land.
Depending on customer interest, Florida Power and Light projects up to 25 commercial-scale solar arrays could be built within the next three years, generating up to 2.4 megawatts of power—enough to serve 420 homes.
“Spending half-a-million dollars to achieve $19,000 in fuel savings is one way to look at whether [solar] is cost-effective,” said Balbis.