Q&A – FPL’s Solar Plans

Today’s note comes from Robert: 

I'm an amateur radio operator and have been a solar power hobbyist for about 20 years now. I have a few points to make on this topic. 

1) Considering how the power grid works, how are they going to supply one person solar generated power and the other power from traditional methods when it all comes from the same wires? 

2) Does FPL think everybody forgot about that deceptively worded amendment they put up to vote in the last election? 

3) The biggest stumbling block we have to be green with solar power here in the sunshine state is the utility companies themselves. If they truly are approaching this from a "green" standpoint, why aren't they spending more time facilitating things for homeowners instead of trying to get more laws passed against home-based power generation?  

Bottom Line: These are all good points and questions. I’ve heard from several skeptical listeners about FPL’s new Solar Together, 30-30 plan they announced last week. The plan is aimed at adding 30 million solar panels by 2030 reducing carbon output by an estimated 67%. Let's start with your first question. How does the FPL propose solar subscriptions will work. The existing FPL “SolarNow” program adds $9 per month to your bill but it doesn’t directly promise more solar power being delivered to your home or business. Instead, the entire $9 goes exclusively towards FPL solar build-out, which generally increases solar use across FPL’s footprint. I’ve yet to see the specific logistics of how FPL intends for you to be able to pay up to exclusively buy solar power from them. I’m reaching out them for more details.  

Moving on to 2016's Amendment 1 or “Smart Solar” question. Without rehashing the details of that failed proposed amendment, you’re right that FPL and other utility companies did want to limit the ability for consumers and outside solar companies to control their own solar power. The utility industry in Florida, with FPL being the largest member, spent $20 million to attempt to get that proposed amendment passed. Putting it altogether and cutting through the nonsense, here’s my take on what FPL’s real mission/plan is.  

FPL does strongly believe in the solar power model and is genuinely moving in that direction with purpose not just PR. However, rather than having us set up our own solar panels and potentially becoming self-sufficient, with the possibility of cutting them out of the equation, they want to be our solar provider of choice. It’s smart business and hypothetically makes sense for us as well. The reason few people in South Florida have made the move to solar is the upfront expense. The upside for those who do it is the ability to effectively eliminate power bills and perhaps even earn credits from FPL by selling excess power back into the grid.

However, based on current prices of panels and existing utility bills, the earliest a customer can recoup the upfront cost is about 18-20 years. That’s a long time to see a return on investment and it’s conceivably near the end of the life of those panels as well. If FPL can effectively become a solar-power utility company over the next couple of decades we might end up in essentially the same place without the work of having to individually have the panels.

Lastly, FPL knows that if we become self-sufficient, they’re done. So, yeah, they’re fighting for their own future as much as the environment. The question is whether they can thread the needle and make solar viable and efficient in ways that we think are more beneficial than going at it alone. As long as the minimum cost for an average home is over $20,000 for solar panels, let alone the headaches that go along with permitting, etc. I don’t think much will change with adaptation in South Florida. I do think FPL can create a value proposition that’s both altruistic and strategic, but there are more questions that need answers. Plus, we need to stay on top of what’s real and what’s fluff

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