Sometimes it’s hard to believe that there was ever a time that Southern utility companies ever fought renewables and in particular solar. Both Southern Company and Duke Energy have made great strides in adopting solar especially the subsidiaries of the Southern Company. Alabama Power has started the conversation of solar adoption. Mississippi Power has just announced 105 MW of utility scale solar in partnership with the US Navy and Hannah Solar. Georgia Power, the star in Southern Company’s crown, has led the southeast with its progressive solar programs including the ever popular and extended Georgia Power Advanced Solar Initiative. Before Southern Company was working on solar deployment, Duke Energy was leading the way in North Carolina with solar through the North Carolina tax rebates and the first of its kind in the south, a renewable portfolio standard. So maybe the Southern utilities were a bit late to the dance but when they showed up, they were wearing their party dresses!
When it comes to Florida however, through utility action or should it be said inaction, Floridians are currently living in the dark ages (pun intended) in solar deployment. This is also in part thanks to Florida’s Governor Rick Scott. Enter a ballot initiative which would allow Florida citizens to purchase their solar through a third party power purchase agreement (PPA). A what? Basically a PPA allows home owners and businesses to install solar without huge initial upfront costs. The PPA allows solar shoppers to purchase solar through a long term financial agreement.
PPAs are not all they are cracked up to be and are certainly not a game changer for solar but they are another piece to the puzzle of making solar affordable for motivated buyers. So what’s the big deal? Well Florida (and until recently, Georgia who just passed their own PPA legislation that went in effect in July) is one of a handful of states that specifically says you can’t purchase power from a third party. Hence, solar advocates are working in Florida to turn over this antiquated statute.
Let’s be clear, if turning over Georgia’s law was seen as an uphill battle (It took three years of lobbying at the Georgia State Legislature to get it passed.), Florida’s challenge is almost impossible because it will take a change to the state constitution for PPAs to be legal. However, solar advocates have a lot of optimism and have launched a statewide campaign to get 600,000 voters to sign and mail in ballots to simply allow voters the right to vote on approving it. So without external factors the challenge would be big but then something else happened.
What are utilities thinking in Florida?
Which leads to the confounding disconnect to what is happening in Florida. Both Southern and Duke have subsidiaries in Florida, Gulf Power and Progress respectively. Florida Power & Light is part of what seems to be a progressive utility, NextEra. Yet, all three of these companies along with Tampa Electric Company (TECO), have each put over $100,000 in a campaign to confuse Florida voters about the ballot campaign and to make it worse they have started their own “solar” campaign to get a ballot item on the ballot that would never, ever allow PPAs to be part of financing anything but especially solar.
Florida does have a very aggressive open records act which is how their donations were exposed, so why these utilities would contribute to a campaign that seems to be based on intentionally confusing the voters who are their customers is just beyond comprehension. Not to mention that Wall Street has made it clear, if you are a utility not supporting renewables especially solar, you will be downgraded. So why invest money in a campaign that is so negative towards transparency, consumer choice and the democratic process? Are the utilities so short sighted in their perspective that they aren’t thinking about how their actions will influence the bigger picture of their company’s reputations? Pause…thinking…still baffled.
The Battle Lines have been drawn
Florida’s population is 25 million so basically everyone knows someone in Florida. In our current environment of transparency (what do think the fight over GMO labeling is), we should all reach out to those contacts and let them know to sign the ballot initiative. It still doesn’t allow PPAs, it simply gets the issue on the ballot. It takes a couple of minutes to send the link and make the ask. It doesn’t matter if you understand PPAs or like solar. This is really more about democracy and freedom of choice instead of how you purchase your solar. So what are you waiting for? Let someone know in Florida to take part.