A proposal by Duke Energy Florida to add ten 75 MW solar power plants over the next five years has received support from big organizations, local governments and some residents hoping to make the transition to a clean energy future, but one environmental group is objecting, saying non-participating customers would pay a disproportionate share of the costs.

What You Need To Know

  • Duke Energy Florida says everyone would benefit from the plan to build and pay for 10 solar power plants

  • Earthjustice says the costs and benefits is not being split fairly

Duke officials advocated for the proposal last week in front of the Florida Public Service Commission. Under the program, customers would be able to voluntarily pay more on their electric bills to help finance the solar projects and would receive credits that would result in them getting a payback in about seven years.

If approved, Duke plans to place two solar power plants in service in 2022, with four additional plants going into service in 2023 and 2024, respectively.

“Duke Energy believes that the Clean Energy Connection is designed to be cost effective with both participating and non-participating customers,” spokesperson Ana Gibbs told Spectrum News. “It is going to enable Duke Energy customers to support the expansion of solar, and it helps businesses and government customers to meet their sustainability goals while basically lowering bills over time.”

But the environmental non-profit law firm Earthjustice is objecting, saying that Duke’s proposal would primarily benefit large corporations like Walmart – and that those who don’t subscribe to the program would face higher bills as a result. 

“Our perspective is that if everyone is paying to build the solar, everyone should benefit,” Earthjustice attorney Bradley Marshall said. The law firm is intervening in the case to represent the League of Latin American Citizens of Florida. 

“So all of Duke’s ratepayers are paying for over 99% of the costs of these solar arrays,” Marshall claims, adding that hundreds of millions of dollars in direct bail credits will go “a select few” of Duke’s customer base.

The way that Duke has designed the plan is that 65% of the program is allocated to commercial and industrial customers (like Walmart). An additional 25% will be allocated to residential and small businesses, and 10% for local governments.

Among those local governments who are participating is the city of St. Petersburg.

“We appreciate Duke Energy’s development of the CEC program, which is another step in the right direction,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said in a press release issued by Duke in July. ”Our initial subscription represents our commitment to work with DEF and others in the state for more ambitious renewable energy goals and a just transition to clean energy.”

There are a number of local governments who have signed on to Duke’s proposal, though the utility would not confirm exactly how many at this time.

Duke also says it will allocate 27.7% percent of the residential capacity for low-income customers. Officials say those customers will receive a bill credit rate that ensures that in no year will their subscription charge increase their total bill. 

But Earthjustice’s Marshall says that with only 25% of the program allocated to residential (and small businesses), the actual percentage of low-income customers the program will serve is much smaller. 

In its concept, Duke’s proposal is similar to the Florida Power & Light ‘SolarTogether’ program that received approval from the Florida Public Service Commission earlier this year. That filing was opposed by the Florida Office of Public Counsel.

In its filing, Duke Energy Florida says that it began hearing inquiries from its larger customer base after FPL filed its plan with the PSC last year, and met with over 65 large customers to better understand their sustainability goals and how it can help them achieve that.

Duke’s proposal does have support in the Florida environmental community.

“This is an innovative way to create these programs,” says George Cavros, a policy attorney with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “Given Florida’s regulatory environment, (it’s) a realistic pathway to address the growing demand for solar power in Florida, while still providing overall net economic benefits to all customers.”

All legal briefs in the case are due December 1, with all parties involved saying that they expect the PSC to make a decision on Duke’s proposal in January.