For months, the state has wanted to know how FPL has spent about $10 million it collected from customers to develop alternative energy sources.
Last week, Florida’s Public Service Commission released its audit of Florida Power & Light Co.’s Sunshine Energy Program after it challenged whether the energy giant has made good on the program’s promises.
But the audit findings are secret at FPL’s request.
On Thursday, the company filed a petition with the commission to revamp the program, which invites its customers to help the utility develop renewable energy in Florida by giving the company an additional $9.75 every month.
“FPL believes the program can more strongly promote the development of additional renewable energy sources,” according to the petition. “A much greater proportion of the customer contribution will be used by FPL directly for the development of new renewable energy resources.”
The commission’s probe of the program began in September when it asked FPL for documents and explanations of how it has spent about $10 million collected from the program’s 38,000 subscribers. Again and again, FPL filed requests to keep its records confidential, saying they contain “proprietary business information” and “contractual vendor data.”
But FPL records not under seal show that out-of-state renewable energy companies benefited more from the Sunshine Energy Program than did Florida companies.
“I think it’s disappointing for FPL customers who fully expected and assumed they were putting their hard-earned money into developing renewable energy in Florida,” said Holly Binns, field director of the nonprofit environmental group Environment Florida. “This is one example of why voluntary green energy programs aren’t sufficient to develop a renewable energy economy here.”
Under the utility’s proposed revamp, FPL will stop buying energy credits and instead build 25 kilowatts of new renewable power for every $250,000 it gets from residential subscribers. If approved, the changes would become effective Oct. 1.
“The feeling overall is the time is right and we can do this,” FPL public affairs director Randolph Clerihue said. “Let’s bring it in state.”
The program overhaul has been in the works for months and is not tied to the audit, Clerihue said. Still unresolved is whether the audit findings will become public. The utility has until June 19 to request that the findings remain sealed.
For years, FPL has touted the Sunshine Energy Program as a way for customers to help develop solar projects in Florida. According to its Web site: “By enrolling in FPL’s Sunshine Energy Program, you are helping to make the construction of new solar projects a reality. As part of the program, FPL is committed to building solar projects right here in Florida.”
The program promises to develop 150 kilowatts of solar energy for every 10,000 subscribers and purchase 1,000 kilowatt hours of renewable energy credits for every subscriber, every month.
In February 2007, the utility reported 30,000 subscribers, meaning FPL should have developed 450 kilowatts of solar. But commission documents show that nine months later, the utility had developed only 314 kilowatts of solar since it began in 2004: 2 kilowatts at the Miami Science Museum; 8 kilowatts at four schools; 54 kilowatts on 25 homes at an exclusive development in Naples; and 250 kilowatts at its Rothenbach Park facility in Sarasota.
In the past six months, FPL’s solar development has sped up. FPL has added 124 kilowatts through its Sun Fund solar rebate program and 75 kilowatts in a contract with Publix to install solar arrays at the company’s headquarters in Lakeland and four stores, including the Greenwise markets in Boca Raton and Palm Beach Gardens.
FPL also has filed plans to build 110 megawatts of solar power at three sites around the state: a 75-megawatt solar thermal project in Martin County; a 25-megawatt plant near Arcadia; and a 10-megawatt plant near the Kennedy Space Center. The commission must approve the plans.
The audit also targeted how FPL buys Transferable Renewable Energy Credits, or TRECs, to fulfill its obligations under the Sunshine Energy Program. FPL has hired a Texas company called Green Mountain to manage the Sunshine Energy Program and buy credits. However, FPL records show that only about half of the credits bought by Green Mountain for FPL came from Florida companies.
“Out-of-state TRECs do not facilitate renewable energy generation in Florida,” commission staff wrote in an analysis in September 2007. “Neither do they facilitate fuel diversity or economic development in Florida.”
FPL has “traditionally shown a preference for projects in Florida” but has instructed Green Mountain to buy the most cost-effective credits, FPL spokeswoman Sharon Bennett wrote in an e-mail. “However, with advances in renewable technologies, we now think Sunshine Energy can focus exclusively on renewable projects within the state.”
What is a TREC?
# A Transferable Renewable Energy Credit, also known as a Green Tag, is a commodity equal to 1,000 kilowatt hours of renewable energy.
# A green energy provider (such as a wind farm) is credited with one TREC for every 1,000 kWh of electricity it produces, which is then fed into a grid. The energy itself is then sold separately.
# A buyer, such as FPL, can buy the TREC and report it as having purchased renewable energy. The wind farm can use the money from the sale of the renewable energy and the TREC to build more green energy facilities.
By Christine Stapleton
5 June 2008
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