Duke solar plan challenged in Florida


Duke Energy Florida’s Clean Energy Connections program (CEC) is being challenged at the state Supreme Court by a group that claims the program will shift costs and financial risks to Duke customers who likely will not take part.

The group challenging Duke is represented by the League of United Latin American Citizens of Florida. They argue that because the solar projects are being funded by customers’ bills, an opt-in requirement as well as not expanding project benefits to all customers is discriminatory.

The Public Service Commission voted 4-1 to approve the CEC program on January 5. The program was supported by Duke, Vote Solar, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and Walmart Inc.

Under the program, Duke Energy Florida will build 10 74.9 MW solar plants, with two coming online in January 2022, four in January 2023, and four in January 2024. The costs of each plant would range from $102 million to $113 million. Customer subscriptions to the energy generated would be available in 1 kW blocks.

The program set a monthly fee for each block at $8.35, and the bill credit that customers receive  will be 4 cents-per-kWh for the first 36 months, escalating by 1.5% annually after that. Duke said it expects that by the program’s fifth year the annual bill credit will exceed the subscription fee. By year seven, customer credits are expected to exceed the charges paid to-date for the program.

Duke designed the plan so that 65% of the program is allocated to commercial and industrial customers, 25% is allocated to residential and small businesses, and 10% for local governments.

The group that brought the lawsuit alleges that these allotments are unfair, arguing that they disproportionately benefit Walmart, a signatory to the program, and other large customers that would help pay upfront costs and then receive future credits. The consumer group argues that customers that can afford to help with upfront costs will have the most opportunity to subscribe. Meanwhile, residential customers will feel a larger financial burden and have more limited subscription opportunities.

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