Duke doles out the big bucks in Florida


700 MW of solar is a lot of solar. That may be the most obvious statement ever put on this site, but don’t leave just yet –  this is going somewhere. 700 MW by 2022 is a lot of solar in a short time. 700 MW by 2022, all in Florida, all procured from a utility subsidiary, is whatever you want to call it: lofty, ambitious, necessary.

That (insert adjective you decided upon in the previous sentence) plan is being put forward by a subsidiary of  Duke Energy, Duke Energy Florida. It is also a plan which has taken a huge step towards realization, as the company has raised a $700 million debt issuance for the utility’s first green bond. According to the company, the bond will be used to “finance eligible green energy projects, including the development, construction and procurement of solar generation and utility-scale battery storage projects.”

At the same time, Duke Energy Florida issued a $200 million bond, with the cash from this one going into covering costs associated with Hurricane Dorian, as well as other general corporate purposes. In the past 12 months, Duke Energy has issued three green bonds: $1 billion by Duke Energy Carolinas in November 2018, $600 million by Duke Energy Progress in March 2019 and this $700 million bond. The three represent a $2.3 billion financial commitment to renewable generation development.

Just as 700 MW is a lot of solar, $700 million is, you guessed it, a lot of money. For some perspective, Duke is putting more money towards the development of utility-scale renewable energy in Florida than the combined payrolls of the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees, the three highest in baseball, a notoriously cash-bloated sport.

As for how Duke will use the cash, the company’s inclusion of “including the development, construction and procurement of solar generation” in the corporate announcement seems pretty telling. In regards to that 700 MW by 2022 goal, the company currently has 345 MW installed or currently under construction.

And there are always the Jones to keep up with and for Duke Energy Florida, Florida Power & Light (FPL) plays the part. You may remember FPL’s campaign to install 30 million solar panels – somewhere between 10 and 13 GWdc, depending on the modules used – by 2030, dubbed “30 x 30.”

The projects already constructed under this plan could provide some hints as to how Duke will use this bond. Nearly all large-scale solar projects in Florida, Duke’s included, come in at 74.5 MW, because once they hit 75 MW a whole bunch more regulations and pre-development requirements come into play, which can significantly slow down a project. So while it isn’t concrete, it is likely that Duke’s planned projects will also be 74.5 MW.

Most recently FPL announced plans to develop one of those 74.5 MW projects right near the Kennedy Space Center. The project is set to cost $100 million. While that does not mean Duke’s projects will be identical, it provides at least a basic baseline. Using said baseline, this $700 million investment by Duke could achieve a maximum capacity of 521.5 MW, more than enough for the company’s 700 MW by 2022 goal.

However, that is not the number that we are likely to see, and it is just as likely that not all of the funds go to solar development. Either way, this is a huge commitment by Duke in one of the fastest-growing solar markets in the nation.