The group claiming to represent Florida’s largest consumers of electricity, which all publicly support solar, has come out consistently against solar generation before the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC), and more recently, the Florida Supreme Court. The group, known as Florida Industrial Power Users Group (FIPUG), filed an appeal with the Florida Supreme Court this month challenging the PSC’s decision to allow Florida Power & Light (FP&L) to recover costs associated with a handful of new solar generation projects. FIPUG claims that FP&L’s solar projects are “neither needed nor cost effective.”
The group’s membership is shrouded in mystery. Lawyers for FIPUG won’t say which Florida companies comprise their group, but Wal-Mart, Disney and Publix are among the largest consumers of power in the state, and Wal-Mart in particular has been active in its advocacy for more solar through a group called Florida Energy Freedom.
In public, Wal-Mart, Publix and Disney spend vast sums of money investing in their own renewable energy initiatives, then tout their efforts in “going green” public relations campaigns. Some, like Publix, have invested millions into building their own solar generation systems, and even Disney World is getting in on the act. Wal-Mart has been at it for years, and the company is also politically active in the push for consumer solar. All three of these companies maintain massive operational footprints across the state of Florida.
Disney owns and operates theme parks, but also dozens of enormous hotels and convention centers, all requiring elaborate systems for lighting, electronics, refrigeration, air conditioning, hot water and other high-demand electricity applications. Publix and Wal-Mart have warehouses and grocery stores throughout Florida, and they consume vast amounts of electricity for refrigeration, lighting and air-conditioning. Their support for on-site solar generation makes sense because they have real-estate and financial resources to build solar generation infrastructure.
But FIPUG’s likely members aren’t the only ones that support more investment in solar. In poll after poll, consumers and voters across the state have overwhelmingly supported plans for large-scale solar generation and storage, especially as costs come down and solar becomes cost-competitive with other forms of energy generation.
Why FIPUG consistently opposes large-scale solar investment – arguably the most cost-effective most efficient implementation – despite the fact that its own members publicly support it, remains a mystery. Messages to Jon Moyle, the FIPUG’s attorney who filed the briefing with the court, were not returned.
Large-scale solar operations are gaining a foothold in the state’s energy generation portfolio, and they are overwhelmingly supported by the public. FP&L already has 16 solar energy generation plants operating in Florida, and is slated to bring another four online in 2019. Duke operates several large-scale solar generation plants and has plans to add up to 500 additional megawatts by 2024. Other state utilities have similar plans.
Analysts say that if FIPUG members include Wal-Mart, Disney or even Publix, then the group’s opposition to large-scale solar projects isn’t really about cost-effectiveness or need, it’s about opposing solar power unless its members can make money from their own projects, and they don’t want to finance the efforts of Florida’s large-scale providers to produce more clean energy.
FIPUG frequently appears before the Public Service Commission, which oversees utility regulation in Florida. The Commission controls rate increases and provides oversight for the methods used by power companies to recoup costs for projects that ultimately benefit all electric consumers.