Duke Uses Siren-Song of Solar Power to Sway Office of Public Counsel, Environmentalists

by | Oct 27, 2017

Don’t blame Duke when energy rates go up between now and the year 2021. Blame the Office of Public Counsel and environmental activists who are suckers for the siren-song of solar.

Duke’s lawyers and negotiators just signed a generous settlement agreement that not only justified a $1.2 billion nuclear-to-solar switcheroo, but also netted the company a $200 million rate increase – all without Duke having to go through the normal regulatory hoops, according to a story published by the Citrus County Chronicle:

The 52-page settlement will largely resolve issues about base electric rates through 2021. Base rates make up a major portion of customers’ monthly electric bills, and proposals to increase rates often lead to lengthy and contentious hearings at the Public Service Commission.

But not this time. Duke managed to convince the Office of Public Counsel, which supposedly represents consumers, to sign off on the $200 million rate increase without making Duke face tougher public scrutiny.

Why? Apparently the Office of Public Counsel was swayed by liberal environmentalist groups, including the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which advocates “clean energy solutions to reduce the impact of global climate change.” Sadly, SACE doesn’t seek to reduce the impact of clean energy solutions on consumer’s pocket books.

Duke wisely took advantage of SACE’s push for solar, and used it to pull the plug on a promised 2.2 gigawatt nuclear power plant and swap it with “plans” to build solar power plants that would produce significantly less energy: a mere 0.7 gigawatts during the daytime, and only then when there is no rain, clouds or fog, there’s no accumulation of dust and pollen on panels, and the electric inverters that convert solar energy to usable electricity are functioning at maximum efficiency.

Also, note the use of the word “plans.” Duke doesn’t even have to build a solar power plant unless it’s a money-maker. Duke negotiators included a clever caveat in the agreement which says they’ll build the solar facility only “if [solar] is determined to be cost effective.”  What that really means is Duke will invest further in solar only if the company can pass the higher generation and storage costs along to consumers and still make a profit.

And while there’s nothing wrong with Duke making a profit, there is something wrong with them making a profit off of overpriced solar energy.

A spokesman for solar companies claims that customers would likely pay more for solar through Duke than if power was purchased from solar firms, because solar companies typically absorb any unexpected or hidden costs. Even though his claim is debatable, given that consumers are the ones typically saddled with maintenance and repair costs when solar tech inevitably fails to deliver, his larger point about Duke passing along costs to consumers is still valid.

“In that case, unless the cost overrun is determined by the commission to be unreasonable,” says Pierce Schuessler, of Florida Solar Energy Industries, “it will get included in the rate base and be passed on to the ratepayers.”

Indeed, buried at the bottom of the Citrus County Chronicle’s story is this gem of a sentence:

A caveat to the base-rate issue is that costs for solar facilities can be added as the facilities are completed.

Duke says they plan to analyze the cost of solar projects to ensure they are cost-effective for customers.

And that’s the catch. Solar will end up costing more because it’s just not ready for prime time. But Duke may just forge ahead anyway, because they’ll get a new solar power facility that not only generates electricity they can force the public to buy at premium prices, but will also earn them glowing praise in the media.

Florida’s environmentalists, including the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a pro-Democrat environmental activist group, isn’t bothered by this. They are willing to force all consumers to pay more for solar energy because they believe it will “save the planet.” The fact that it’ll also act as a boat anchor on Florida’s economy isn’t their concern.

As for the Office of Public Counsel, they were apparently so happy to have Duke and environmentalists in agreement, they signed off on the deal without allowing the public to debate the real economic impact of the settlement agreement.

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