Florida Utility Touts Low Power Rates, Charges More for Solar Program

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Some strange news has been coming from Florida Power & Light Company (FPL), the third-largest electric utility in the U.S. The company, which serves about 4.7 million customers across nearly half of Florida, is looking to reduce rates, while providing a voluntary solar program that would add a $9 monthly charge to participating customers.

The company announced last week that, subject to approval by the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC), it expects to reduce customer rates in 2015. Rates for a typical 1000-kilowatt-hour residential customer bill would decrease nearly $2 a month beginning in January. Typical business customer bills are expected to decrease roughly 1%, depending on rate class and type of service.

FPL emphasizes that its typical residential customer bill is already lower than it was five years, which the company attributes to savings on fuel costs. After the anticipated reduction in January, FPL’s typical bill will be about 9% lower than it was in 2009. FPL’s typical residential bill remains approximately 25% lower than the U.S. average and is projected to continue to be the lowest in Florida for the sixth year in a row.

“Our continued strategy of making smart, long-term investments is paying off for our customers not only with enhanced service reliability and cleaner power, but also lower rates,” said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL, in a statement. He called out the use of natural gas as part of the mix, noting, “Today, FPL is one of the cleanest electric utilities in the nation. Our carbon emissions rate is 35 percent cleaner than the U.S. average, and we’ve reduced our use of foreign oil by 99 percent – all while lowering customers’ bills. In particular, the investments we’ve made since 2001 in converting our old, oil-fired power plants to modern energy centers that run on clean, U.S.-produced natural gas have saved our customers $6.8 billion dollars and counting.”

But not everyone is convinced that FPL has its customers’ interests at heart and is supportive of solar power. Vote Solar notes that the company’s voluntary solar program proposal “falls short of best practices” — not to mention that it has no clear goal.

We’ve already pointed out that while it’s great to have options for residential customers who can’t put solar on their own roofs, FPL seems to be supporting commercial solar that they control at the expense of customer-owned residential solar. Vote Solar adds to the concerns about the program by noting that FPL has not determined whether it’s cost-effective. In comparing the program with other successful ones, the organization concludes that the program could benefit from some improvements.

To that end, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and Vote Solar filed comments on how the program can be improved that are worth reading.

We join Vote Solar and SACE in hoping that the program can be improved. FPL customers should be able to benefit from both low electricity rates and the many benefits of getting clean power from the sun.