Duke Energy solar plan challenged at Supreme Court

by | Mar 1, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — A Duke Energy Florida plan that would add 10 solar-power plants faces a challenge at the state Supreme Court.

Attorneys for the League of United Latin American Citizens of Florida filed a notice this week that they are challenging a Jan. 5 decision by the state Public Service Commission to approve what Duke has dubbed the “Clean Energy Connection Program.”

While utilities have rushed to build solar-power plants during the past few years, the Duke program has a financial structure that involves some customers volunteering to initially pay more on their electric bills to help finance the projects — and then receiving bill credits in the future.

The notice filed this week, as is common, does not detail the arguments that the League of United Latin American Citizens of Florida will make at the Supreme Court. But the group, represented by attorneys from the Earthjustice legal organization, has argued that the plan will shift costs and financial risks to the vast majority of Duke customers who do not participate.

“Approving Duke’s program would lead to unfair and discriminatory rate structures that harm Duke’s customer base, particularly low-income customers, while awarding participating customers hundreds of millions of dollars of energy credits,” the Earthjustice attorneys wrote in a December document filed at the Public Service Commission. “As designed, the program depends on allocating all risk to non-participants.”

But in a December document, Duke attorneys disputed the opponents’ arguments and wrote that the program “presents an innovative tool for adding cost-effective solar generation to DEF’s (Duke Energy Florida’s) system for the benefit of all DEF customers, while also responding to specific customer demands for solar generation.”

“The CEC (Clean Energy Connection) Program represents the next evolution in DEF’s commitment to increasing renewable generation and providing its customers with innovative pricing solutions,” the utility said in the document.

The Public Service Commission voted 4-1 to approve the program, which came after Duke, Walmart and the groups Vote Solar and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy negotiated what is known as a “stipulation” about the details.

The program involves building 10 74.9-megawatt solar plants, with two coming online in January 2022, four coming online in January 2023 and four coming online in January 2024, according to Duke’s proposal filed at the Public Service Commission in July. The costs of each plant would range from $102 million to $113 million.

But the dispute about the program largely has focused on its financial structure, with opponents contending that it would disproportionately benefit Walmart and other large customers that would help pay upfront costs and then receive future credits.

But Duke has contended, in part, that the program would benefit all customers because the solar projects would ultimately reduce the need to build costly natural-gas plants and would help reduce carbon emissions.

The Public Service Commission also approved a similar program last year for Florida Power & Light.


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