Report: FL leads clean-energy growth in Southeast, but power industry must do more

NextEra decarbonization plan ‘completely changes the paradigm’ of what can be done to protect climate

By: - July 20, 2022 11:59 am

A utility-scale solar array in Florida. Credit: Florida Power and Light, a subsidiary of NextEra

Power companies’ pursuit of solar energy in Florida is outpacing efforts in other Southern states, and Florida Power and Light’s “Real Zero” plan to slash its climate-altering carbon emissions sets a new high bar, according to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE).

Florida far surpasses six other states in the number of solar panels installed by power companies in large-scale collection sites, sometimes called solar farms, the analysis says.

“Florida has definitively established itself as the Southeast leader in installed solar capacity,” says the fifth annual “Solar in the Southeast” report issued by SACE. “The state had almost 5.7 gigawatts for 2021 on a full-year operational equivalent basis – 2 gigawatts more than any other state.”

Source: Duke Energy leads in installed solar, but Florida Power and Light is forecasted to surpass it. Source: Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Dr. Stephen Smith, SACE executive director, said in a video press conference that the Real Zero decarbonization plan from NextEra, which owns Florida Power and Light and utility companies in other states, is a game-changer that raises the bar on what consumers should demand from all power companies.

“The reason that we have several times referenced the Real Zero proposal is that SACE has for a number of years constantly pointed out to utilities across the board that their ambition for investing in using the sun’s power as the most elegant way, the cleanest way, and now the most cost-effective way to deliver electrons should be much more significant in their portfolio,” Smith said. NextEra’s plan proves it is feasible and affordable, he said in the press conference,

The Real Zero decarbonization plan, unveiled in June, pledges to cut NextEra’s own carbon emissions in the regions it serves by 70 percent by 2025, compared with its 2005 baseline, 82 percent by 2030, 87 percent by 2035, 94 percent by 2040, and 100 percent by 2045.  NextEra says it would do so, in large part, by substantially expanding solar-power generation to 90,000 megawatts, adding 50,000 megawatts of battery storage, maintaining its nuclear power generation, and converting 16,000 megawatts of natural gas units to run on green hydrogen.  The latter is a clean-burning form of hydrogen produced with solar energy and other renewable energy sources, as explained in this Wall Street Journal report.

“A significant portion of NextEra Energy’s plan to eliminate carbon emissions is designed to take place at Florida Power & Light Company (FPL), which is the nation’s largest electric utility serving over 12 million Floridians,” NextEra announced in June.

“The NextEra proposal is the first one that we’ve seen of any utility to actually begin to put that kind of goal out. The 90,000 megawatts [of solar power] to serve the load in the state of Florida is a bold proposal,” Smith said. “Now that you are aware that a for-profit, very profitable company is projecting that solar power can do this kind of work in our region, you should absolutely discount repeatedly what other utilities are saying: oh, this isn’t cost-effective or whatever. I believe that what NextEra has put on the table completely changes that paradigm.”

Clean-energy reports says Florida is providing more solar power than other SE states, but ambition falls short of potential across the board. Credit: Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

The report also commended Duke Energy as the leader for 10 years in installed solar in the three states it serves: Florida and the Carolinas. However, it says Florida Power and Light, which includes Gulf Power, is expected to overtake Duke.

While Florida leads Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and the Carolinas in solar-energy production, all power companies have far more capacity to shrink their use of fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas and to shift to clean energy sources such as solar, wind and nuclear – energy that is renewable and does not pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases that worsen climate change.

“We don’t think that there is enough clean energy currently in the resource portfolios in the utilities and we need some favorable policies to push that,” said Bryant Jacob, author of the SACE report. “Arraying the utilities against one other, calling out the leaders and laggards, actually does help us in some of our regulatory filings.”

The SACE report says Florida is notable in this way, too: Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a bill backed by Florida Power and Light to control how consumers sell their excess solar power to the electricity grid, which would have undercut an incentive to help homeowners recoup their costs of installing rooftop solar.

The report says House Bill 741 “would have rescinded net metering and decimated the distributed solar segment in Florida” – and it warns that similar measures could resurface in coming legislative sessions as solar grows increasingly popular and valuable.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.