FPL to Build Solar Panels Thanks to Green Customers

Florida Power & Light Co. has signed on more than 10,000 customers for its renewable-energy program.

Palm Beach, Florida — Florida Power & Light Co. has signed on more than 10,000 customers for its renewable-energy program.

When you consider that the utility has more than 4.2 million home and business customer accounts, that's not a lot. But it's enough for FPL to build a small solar-energy generation project.

Under FPL's Sunshine Energy program, which started a year ago Sunday, customers pay the utility an additional $9.75 a month to buy energy from renewable sources, rather than fossil fuels such as oil, whose supplies are finite.

"This tells developers of clean-energy sources that there is a demand," FPL spokeswoman Pat Davis said.

Austin, Texas-based Green Mountain Energy Co. markets the program and searches for suppliers of renewable energy. For FPL's customers, Green Mountain -- the nation's largest retail provider of green energy -- looks first in Florida and then goes to the Southeast and beyond, said Mark Hammer, operations director.

The power that Sunshine customers buy doesn't necessarily go to their houses. The electricity can be added to grids across the country.

FPL started Sunshine Energy because customers were asking for more renewable energy, Davis said. The 10,000 figure is less than 1 percent of FPL's customer base of 4.2 million, and Davis acknowledges that the program, which is voluntary, is not for everyone.

But it is for people like Jill Rosenberg, who signed up for the program a year ago after spotting a Sunshine Energy booth at a local arts festival.

"Everybody wants to find alternative sources of energy so we're not so oil-dependent," said Rosenberg, 39, of Coral Gables.

FPL's program is one of 121 in the Southeast and about 500 nationwide. In terms of participants, the largest is Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy with 43,000. FPL is in the top 10, said Blair Swezey, a principal policy adviser with the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.

"Green-pricing programs are a way for utilities to get started with renewable energy and learn about the different options and how they operate," said Swezey, who added that FPL's $9.75 monthly tab is "very competitive." Environmentalists hope that FPL is just getting started with alternative-energy efforts.

"They've done more in a year than any other Southeastern utility, and that is in spite of the hurricanes," said Stephen Smith, president of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, based in Knoxville, Tenn. "I think that FPL can do more. In spite of a tough hurricane season, they are reporting very high profits." Smith points to the Tennessee Valley Authority's renewable energy program, which has 7,300 participants. Still, the authority will erect a solar-energy project that will generate 350 kilowatts of energy, more than twice the 150 kilowatts FPL plans.

FPL continues to search for places to put about a football field's worth of solar panels and is considering several sites in the Miami area, Davis said.

"We're not quite ready to say, 'This is it,' but we will soon," she said.
(c) 2005, The Palm Beach Post, Fla. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.