Florida Power & Light unveiled a bold “30 by 30” plan last week to install 30 million solar panels over the next dozen years, a feat that would stand as “the largest installation of solar panels by a regulated utility in the world.”
Greentech Media guesstimates the total output from FPL’s “functionally vague panel count” at about 10,500 megawatts, about five times the Sunshine State’s current installed solar capacity. In 2016, FPL had 21,766 MW of total capacity, most of it in natural gas, according to the Energy and Policy Institute, a San Francisco-based watchdog group.
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Florida now ranks eighth among U.S. states in installed solar.
The plan “would entail a major escalation of the regulated utility’s solar capacity. It has developed roughly 1,000 megawatts over the last few years,” Greentech reports. “The utility’s deregulated sister company, NextEra Energy Resources, has already proven itself a global leader in renewables development.”
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen a number of utilities crossing the one-gigawatt threshold of planned capacity,” said Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables Senior Analyst Colin Smith. “We’re now seeing whole utilities plan significant percentages of their entire generation portfolio to come from solar.”
The language in Florida Power & Light’s announcement “appeared targeted at people who don’t work with solar power,” Greentech states. “Practitioners typically describe solar projects in hard capacity numbers, rather than the functionally vague panel count. Different panels have different capacity ratings, and these are likely to change over the coming decade as technology improves, making it hard to pin down how much power 30 million panels will actually deliver.”
Greentech’s estimate was based on 350 watts per panel.
While it isn’t yet entirely clear who will get to install the systems, FPL’s announcement said it “has secured solar sites throughout the state,” and its past performance suggests the regulated utility might handle all the work in-house. “Under the regulated system, capital expenditures to build power plants add to a utility’s rate base, increasing the money it makes,” Greentech explains, “whereas the costs of a power-purchase agreement get passed through to customers without increasing the utility’s compensation.”
But “if FPL does bid out some of the projects, it will likely start a feeding frenzy of large-scale developers looking to build at scale” in the southeastern United States. “Things could get interesting if NextEra Energy Resources tries to bid; other top developers might object to keeping things in the family.”
Panel manufacturers will also be looking for a share of the work, and Greentech notes that FPL’s parent company, NextEra Energy, recently “agreed to buy seven million panels from Jinko Solar as part of the Chinese manufacturer’s deal to build a factory in Jacksonville, Florida, after the Trump administration imposed import tariffs on solar modules last year.”
“It’s exciting to know that solar panels built in Florida will be helping to power FPL customers in the not-too-distant future,” FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy said at the time.