Solar Power In The Sunshine State, What A Concept

Whether Charlie Crist can beat Rick Scott and win back his job as Florida governor, that’s tough to say. But the Republican-turned-Democrat is sure taking an interesting tack in the race: He’s vowing to help the state seize upon its significant solar resource.

Crist’s call was highlighted in a recent PolitiFact piece that examined the former governor’s claim that Florida was “hardly doing any solar energy production.” Crist had added, “We should be the global leader in solar energy.”

florida solar

The 25-megawatt DeSoto plant, a bright spot for Florida solar (image via FPL)

PolitiFact verified what a poor job Florida has done on solar, noting that as of June this year, the state had 202 megawatts of installed capacity. New Jersey – people leave Jersey to find sunshine in Florida, right? – had more than five times as much. California had 18 times as much, 3,761 MW.

The heart of the problem is that Florida at the state level has done little to encourage solar, and with generally low electricity costs over the years and other, more harmful forms of energy not having to pay for their ill effects, solar has lost out. That’s especially a shame in Florida because unlike other states, it can’t do wind – it’s a very poor wind state.

“Florida is now in the minority of states that have yet to pass a Renewable Portfolio Standard, which would encourage the growth of clean energy by requiring utilities to generate a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

PolitiFact noted that Crist tried to get an RPS in place for the state, one that would have called for 20 percent renewables by 2020 – but the legislature said no.

In July, the group Environment America put out a report that noted that Florida ranked 16th per capita in solar capacity. But that can change, according to Wayne Wallace, president of Florida Solar Energy Industries Association.

“By setting bold goals of getting 10 percent of our energy from the sun by 2030 and adopting strong policies to back up that goal, Florida can follow in the footsteps of the top solar states and start paving the way for the rest of the country,” Wallace said when that Environment America report was released. “In order to achieve this goal, we need the commitment from our state leaders to enable policies that will grow solar development in Florida.”

Solar’s costs are dropping, and Florida electricity rates have been creeping up, so the stage does seem to be set.

In any case, Crist’s pro-solar strategy makes political sense, if a recent survey by Stanford researchers is any indication – they found that 73 percent of Floridians favor tax breaks to produce renewable energy, beating nuclear (a much-talked-about option in Florida), which had just 46 percent support.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • Jerry Graf

    Desoto Solar Plant: $152 million for 25 MW (>$6.00 per watt) capable of making maybe 42,000 MWH of inconsistent unreliable electricity per year. The simple payback is what…….75 years (about 50 years longer than the PV panels will last)?? $44 million from a federal porkulus grant and what other “incentives”?
    I know they have orange trees in Florida. Apparently they also think they have money trees.

  • disqus_HUVXCgD9Sw

    Mr. Graf, If you could be so kind as to Google ‘average cost of pv power’, you will find that the price you quote of >$6.00 per watt (installed) only applies to residential installations, in 2012. Utility installations averaged closer to $2.50 – $4.00 per watt, and they are falling fast.

    • Jerry Graf

      Cost of Desoto was $152 million for 25 MW. This is greater than $6.00 per MW.
      Please see other response below.

    • Pete Danko

      Pretty amazing to think how far solar has come since Desoto was built in 2008-9! As the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab reported a few months ago: “Installed PV project prices have fallen by nearly one third since the 2007-2009 period, from around $5.6/WAC to $3.9/WAC (in real 2012 dollars) on average for projects completed in 2012 (with some projects higher and others lower, and with further reductions evident in 2013).” Further reductions indeed. The SEIA 2013 third quarter report, coming out in full tomorrow, includes this information: “Utility system prices once again declined quarter-over-quarter and year over-year, down from $2.40/W in Q3 2012 and $2.10/W in Q2 2013, settling at $2.04/W in Q3 2013.”

      • Jerry Graf

        Pete,

        The latest and largest “utility” sized solar installation I have researched was the California Valley Solar Ranch, which started operation in 2013, just a few months ago. It cost $1,600,000,000 for 250 MW ($6.40 per watt), is expected to produce at a capacity factor of 22%, and will never come close to providing enough electricity to return the investment.

        http://jerrygraf.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/california-valley-solar-ranch-update/

        Can you provide a specific example of a “utility” scale solar project that was recently constructed for $2.04 per watt? Where is it located? What is the nameplate capacity? How much did it really cost to install and how was this funded? What annual average capacity factor is expected, and how much electricity will it really produce per year? How many years will it last, and how much will it cost to operate & maintain per year? How many acres were required? How will electricity be provided during the time when it is NOT producing electricity, and how much will this cost?

        I am not an unreasonable person. If the case is reasonable and supported by the facts, I will support it.