FILE - Solar panels

Since unveiling its “30-by-30” plan to install 30 million solar panels by 2030 in January, Florida Power & Light (FPL) has continued to stoke its rapid expansion into solar power by adding a commitment to build 20 solar-power plants and the world’s largest solar battery storage site in Manatee County.

According to the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA)’s 2019 Utility Solar Market Snapshot report, FPL added more panels in 2018 than all but one other utility nationwide.

In March, FPL filed a petition with the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) to add a new component to its expanding solar programs that would allow ratepayers to “subscribe to a portion” of its new solar power capacity.

FPL’s proposed “SolarTogether” program is scheduled to be presented to the PSC, the state’s utility regulator, on July 25 after a three-month review by the commission’s staff.

The Florida Office of Public Council (OPC), however, thinks just one presentation before the PSC is not enough time to adequately review FPL’s “SolarTogether” plan.

The “extraordinary size of the program,” complex engineering and financial issues “have generated concern and interest from numerous persons and entities across Florida,” the OPC said in a filing this week with the PSC. “Approval of the program in the form proposed in the [FPL] petition has the potential to set new precedent for the regulatory oversight of electric utilities in the state.”

OPC, which represents the state’s consumers in utility matters, is requesting the PSC review FPL’s "SolarTogether" plan in a full administrative public hearing before July 25.

FPL filed its proposed "SolarTogether" program with the PSC on March 13. The plan seeks to spend $1.79 billion to build 20 74.5-megawatt solar plants that would collective add 1,490 megawatts of electricity generation to its grid.

FPL’s filing said the solar projects would offer long-term savings of $139 million to customers because increased use of solar would reduce dependence on natural gas and other types of power plants.

Under the plan, customers can voluntarily opt to have their power sourced from a solar plant, paying a charge each month and receiving credits for savings produced by the program.

“The company has developed ‘SolarTogether’ as a cost-effective opportunity for customers to directly support the expansion of solar power without the need to install solar on their rooftop,” the filing said. “Through FPL SolarTogether, customers will have the option to subscribe to kilowatts of solar capacity from dedicated cost-effective 74.5-megawatt solar power plants built for this program. Participating customers’ monthly bills will include the cost of their subscribed capacity and credits that reflect the system savings generated by their subscribed capacity.”

On June 14, FPL received clearance to continue assessing a “base rate adjustment” – charges all customers pay to finance capital improvements – for the costs of building solar power plants when the Florida Supreme Court unanimously shot down a challenge by the Florida Industrial Power Users Group (FIPUG).

The court ruled FPL is allowed to impose an $863 million solar energy base rate adjustment (SoBRA) for eight solar projects built in 2017 and 2018.

FIPUG argued that the PSC’s 2016 approval of a SoBRA to recover costs for the construction of the projects was imprudent because the plants are neither needed nor cost-effective.

The court noted FIPUG did not argue the SoBRA in 2016 before the PSC while FPL successfully maintained the projects are cost-effective and are projected to result in $106 million in customer savings.

FPL operates 18 large solar plants, more than 200 smaller installations and, as of January, had installed about 5 million solar panels statewide.

It states in PSC filings that it has secured thousands of acres of land across the state for solar projects and will acquire thousands of additional acres to more than double the number of its solar power plants and increase the number of installed solar panels six-fold in little more than a decade.

FPL, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, with 5 million accounts serving about 10 million people – roughly half Florida’s population – is the third largest electric utility company in the U.S.

FPL will close its last remaining coal-fired plant, the Indiantown Cogeneration facility, by the end of the year.