Florida Electricity Costs Skyrocket as Utility Invests Heavily in Solar

Published September 1, 2008

Florida Power & Light (FPL) customers are being hit with a 16 percent hike in electricity prices as the utility company invests more heavily in solar power.

FPL’s ongoing solar investment appears to violate a state law requiring utilities to provide power from the least-expensive available source.

Schools, Consumers Hurting

Responding to loud complaints from schools forced to spend increasing shares of their budgets on steeply rising energy costs instead of educational tools, state regulators have taken the unusual step of imposing half the rate increase in August 2008 and the other half in 2009.

Residential customers also will be hit hard. Household electricity bills during the oppressive Florida summers can easily reach $300 to $400 per month. A 16 percent increase in electricity rates can add $64 per month to summer electricity bills, and $500 or more to annual household electric power bills.

FPL customers already have the option of purchasing “green” power for $9.75 per month ($117 per year) from the utility’s Sunshine Energy Program, but few customers have signed up for the program. Audits show most of the program’s money has gone to administrative and marketing costs.

More Hikes to Come

Unfortunately for Florida schools and consumers, the steep hike in 2008 and 2009 electricity prices promises to be only the tip of the iceberg. FPL announced on June 25 it plans to build three new solar energy plants in Florida.

Developers estimate the new plants will generate 110 megawatts of intermittent power at a cost of $688 million, plus operating costs, if the project is completed within budget.

The new plants are expected to produce power for 35,000 homes during daylight hours when the sun is unobstructed.

The three proposed solar power plants are part of a seven-year plan, announced in September 2007, under which FPL expects to add 300 megawatts of solar power to its energy mix.

Four Times as Expensive

According to FPL sources, the utility must pay four times as much for solar power as it does for coal power. Adding increasing amounts of solar power to its energy mix thus means FPL will continue to hike consumers’ energy bills.

“What everybody has to realize is that going green does not mean going cheap,” said Florida Public Counsel J.R. Kelly, who represents consumers on utility issues, according to the July 13 Daytona Beach News-Journal Online.

Laws Ignored

Florida power companies must justify new projects to the Florida Public Service Commission by showing they are procuring power at the least-possible cost to the consumer. FPL and the Florida Public Service Commission circumvent this requirement by claiming future global warming legislation might economically punish coal and natural gas so badly solar power will be the least-expensive power source at some point in the future.

By that logic, FPL and the Public Service Commission argue forcing consumers to purchase solar power that is 400 percent more expensive than coal power is actually saving consumers money.

“Solar power production is significantly more expensive than all other feasible energy sources,” responded Jay Lehr, Ph.D., science director for The Heartland Institute. “To claim that solar power will save consumers money is ridiculous on its face, even if carbon restrictions are enacted. For example, emissions-free nuclear power is and will continue to be far less expensive than solar power.”

Promised Benefits Questioned

For all the additional cost, many wonder whether solar power will achieve its promised environmental benefit anyway.

“Some of the environmental extremists, I am not quite sure what energy source would be acceptable to them,” said Robert Sanchez, director of public policy for the Florida-based James Madison Institute.

“We all know they oppose fossil fuels,” Sanchez added. “Many of them also oppose hydropower, even though it is emissions-free, because it occasionally hampers fish swimming upstream. Others oppose emissions-free wind power because of its deadly effect on birds and bats. Others oppose emissions-free nuclear power because of unfounded safety fears.”

That eliminates nearly every possible energy souce, Sanchez notes. “Commercial solar power requires the development of large swaths of land, and has a large ecological footprint,” he said. “What do they want, a gerbil on a treadmill? Or would they have us revert to the standard of living we had in the 1830s?”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is a senior fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.