Despite solar energy progress, Florida lags behind other states

Florida has made progress in both utility-scale and rooftop solar energy installation, but on “watts-per customer” basis, remains behind other states such as North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, a nonprofit energy group said Tuesday.

The Solar in the Southeast 2017 Annual Report from Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), released Tuesday, highlights solar data and trends throughout the region, including Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.


In 2017 Florida had 83 watts of solar energy per utility customer compared to North Carolina’s 555, South Carolina’s 318, Georgia’s 255 and Mississippi’s 156, the report states. The numbers, based on information from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the utilities, were calculated by taking the amount of installed solar and dividing it by the number of retail utility customers.

“Solar in the Southeast has been virtually doubling every year since 2012,” said Stephen Smith, SACE’s executive director.

In 2012 the region had 200 megawatts of solar, and now it is approaching 6,000 megawatts. Utility-scale solar represents 87 percent of the solar deployed, Smith said.

“I think that Florida is behind in that it doesn’t have as much leadership at the legislative level on these issues, although Amendment 4 was a step in the right direction. You are seeing Florida rapidly catching up,” Smith said.

North Carolina, which has strong renewable energy policies, is second only to California in solar installations. By 2021, Florida is projected to rank second in the region after North Carolina.

As for how Southeastern utilities rank, SACE said that in 2017 Duke Energy ranked first with 2,979 megawatts of utility-scale and customer-owned solar, Southern Company was second with 1,056 megawatts, and Florida Power & Light Co. ranked third at 516 megawatts.

FPL had 109 solar watts per customer in 2017, but solar installations FPL is making through 2021, will place it at 389 watts per customer, said Bryan Jacob, SACE’s solar program director.

Smith said, “We are very pleased with the commitment FPL is making. They are starting to really grow their utility-scale investments.”

FPL spokesman Mark Bubriski criticized the report because as of March 1, FPL will have approximately 935 megawatts of solar in operation, in addition to approximately 68 megawatts of customer-owned solar in its territory, for a total of approximately 1,003 megawatts.

By 2021, FPL will have at least 1,824 megawatts of solar, Bubriski said, more than the 1,640 megawatts stated in the report.

“They shouldn’t make sweeping claims based on data that is either obviously outdated or just plain wrong,” Bubriski said.

Bubriski said he doesn’t know how SACE came up with the numbers presented for FPL.

Jacob said the report does not give full credit for installations that came online during the second half of the year.

Bubriski said it is important to recognize that the report isn’t looking at clean energy.

“It hides the big picture by ignoring essential key facts, such as coal usage by utility — FPL has almost eliminated coal from its energy mix, unlike most utilities, and carbon/greenhouse gas emissions,” Bubriski said, adding that FPL is by far the cleanest utility in the group.

“FPL is in the midst of one of the largest solar expansions in the U.S. right now,” Bubriski said.

Smith said, “We are not advertising this as a clean energy report. We are advertising it as looking at the solar market in the Southeast. It is true, FPL deserves credit for what they have done. Because of the low price of natural gas, we have seen a lot of utilities migrating away from higher carbon sources. That is not unique to FPL.”

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