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NextEra Energy focusing on wind, sun projects outside Florida

The parent company of Florida Power & Light has just spun off a new company for big sun- and wind-energy projects, but don’t expect any of those ventures in South Florida soon.

The NextEra Energy Group already ranks as the largest producer of wind and sun energy in North America, with huge wind farms in the Dakotas and massive solar arrays in the California desert.

Big renewable-energy projects make the most economic sense in areas that have strong wind, steady sun, ample open land or high electricity costs. South Florida has none of those features, executives said.

FPL offers electricity at prices below the national average and less than half the price in California, partly because it switched from oil to cheaper natural gas for most production, said FPL President Eric Silagy.

Florida has limited wind in most areas outside the coasts, and the coasts are well-developed with homes and businesses. When FPL tried to develop a small wind project on Hutchinson Island in St. Lucie County, residents complained that turbines would harm the environment and scenery, Silagy said.

“We couldn’t even get a hearing in front of the county commission, because people thought [turbines] would look bad,” Silagy told the Sun Sentinel editorial board earlier this week. “We really did try.”

Sun in the Sunshine State often is interrupted by clouds. Plus, the Public Service Commission mandates regulated utilities produce the lowest-cost energy and large-scale solar – especially in areas with high land values – remains more expensive than natural gas or nuclear-powered plants, Silagy said.

Those economics could change, But for now, Juno Beach-based NextEra is focusing on big renewable projects elsewhere.

Its new spinoff, NextEra Energy Partners (NEP), just raised $442.7 million from selling stock to the public and underwriters to help fund that growth. Shares closed Friday at $34.61, up from a $25 price at its initial offering.

Said Silagy: “We like smart wind and smart solar.”