FPL to double U.S. community solar capacity

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In a fashion that would impress even the most braggadocios of rappers, Florida Power and Light (FPL) is flexing its development muscles, announcing last night that the company plans to create the country’s largest community solar program at 1490 MW, over the next two years.

The program is planned to be comprised of 20 projects, with six expected to be completed by 2020 and the remaining 14 to be completed by 2021. For those of you who are starting to do the math, that figure averages out to 74.5 MW per project, which is not just the average, but the consistent size of FPL’s many solar projects underway.

As has been stated before, there is a point where large numbers become arbitrary to us as humans, and it would be a tragedy for this project to receive the same fate. The same is true for the word ‘unprecedented’.

To put this in as clear of terms as possible, we have never seen community solar development of this scale in the United States as a country, let alone in a single state. According to SEIA’s most recent data, the United States as a whole has a total installed community solar capacity of 1,298 MW. Yes, that’s correct, FPL is planning on more than doubling the nation’s installed community solar capacity.

FPL is clearly not afraid of biting off more than it can chew, as this program comes as a part of the utility’s ’30-by-30′ plan, the most ambitious utility-led solar buildout in the country, aimed at adding 30 million solar panels by 2030. That figure represents somewhere from 10-13 GW in capacity, which means that this one program, which is expected to be completed within the next two years, will represent somewhere from 11-15% of that already, and here comes that word again, unprecedented development.

And while all of this wild development is just that, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that it doesn’t come as a surprise. this is because FPL’s parent company is NextEra, which owns more wind and solar generation within the United States than any other company. And, like a bodybuilder, the bigger this portfolio gets, the more ambitious its growth goals become.

NextEra and FPL’s ambitious renewable development is also significant because it isn’t just blind generation development, it’s a serious commitment to a renewable future. These plants are replacing dirtier coal and oil-fired generation – and quickly – as FPL has been phasing-out oil-fired plants since 2001 with the expectation of shutting down its last remaining coal plant later this year.

The program is projected to generate an estimated $139 million in net savings for all FPL customers, not just subscribers, which is extra impressive given the company’s low utility rates. Subscribers will receive direct credits on their monthly electric bill. With the avoided cost savings referenced above and the bill credits, subscribers are anticipated to achieve a simple payback on their subscription within seven years.

These subscribers are varied, as FPL boasts that municipalities, large national retail chains, universities, banks, restaurants and schools are all represented in the over 200 customers that have have committed to participate. This subscriber base is highlighted by 7-Eleven, the City of Sarasota, Broward College and Florida Atlantic University.

Unfortunately, since this program is so early in its development, no information has been made available on what type of panels, racking, inverters, etc. that will be used. In fact, the program is so early that FPL has not yet announced all of the locations for participating projects. Rest assured, however, that this will not be the last time we hear about this program.