Guide to Duke Energy solar programs in Florida

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Duke Energy currently offers three programs to support solar in Florida; which one will provide you with the most savings?

If you’re a Florida homeowner and a customer of Duke Energy, you should know that the utility offers a few programs that allow you to take advantage of solar power. However, not all of Duke’s solar programs are created equal. Below, we’ll break down what’s available, and which is the best choice for the majority of homeowners in the Sunshine State. 

The average homeowner in Florida spends about $200 per month on their Duke Energy bill, using over 17,600 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year. That’s a lot of money, and many homeowners have installed solar panels on their roofs to help reduce their electricity bills.

The best way to save money with solar is a program called net metering, which we’ll discuss below. But Duke Energy also offers two other programs to support solar energy. Believe it or not, one of them actually costs you extra each month, but the other could show some promising long-term savings. 

Find out if going solar is worth it where you live

Starting from the least financially beneficial to the the most, we’ll cover these three programs:

    The Shared Solar Program

    If you’re interested in paying Duke Energy extra money every month to support the development of new utility-scale solar farms, this is the plan for you (also, are you okay?). 

    Under the Shared Solar program, you purchase a block of 50 kilowatt-hours (kWh) in solar energy for $7.75 each per month, then get a credit back on your bill of $1.04 per month. This means that the Shared Solar program will cost you a net amount of $6.71 per block. 

    The average homeowner uses about 1,450 kWh per month, and if they chose to offset all of that, they’d need 29 blocks. At $6.71 per block, the Shared Solar program would cost that person $194.59 extra, every month. In our opinion, that’s a terrible deal

    If you’re a Florida Duke Energy customer and a masochist, you can learn more about the Shared Solar program here. You can also take a look at this example bill to see how the Shared Solar program charges would appear on your bill, if, y’know, you hated having money. 

    Clean Energy Connection

    New for 2022, Duke Energy realized people don’t want to pay a lot extra to support renewable energy in their area. At least not over the long term. Also, many people can’t or don’t want to have solar panels on their roof. So Duke came up with a subscription program where its customers can sign up to receive the benefits of solar energy without having to install their own system.

    Duke anticipates that the Clean Energy Connection program, or CEC for short, will generate long-term savings for its customers after initially costing a small amount extra on their annual energy bills.

    The program works like this: a customer subscribes to “blocks”, or shares of a solar farm that each represent one kilowatt (kW) of solar generation. Each block costs $8.35 per month. The subscribed customer gets an average credit of $0.04 for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) generated by their blocks. After the first three years, the credit increases by 1.5% each year, theoretically resulting in net savings after Year 5, and profits from Year 7 onward.

    The Clean Energy Connection program is opening to new subscribers early in the year, and the initial offerings will likely fill up quickly. Ultimately, this program might serve 18,000 homeowners or more. 

    Sites for the first two solar farms have been reserved in Hardee County and Citrus County, and future sites will be chosen soon. The program is scheduled to run for 30 years, although subscribers will have no commitment, and can cancel at the end of any month. 

    Does the Clean Energy Connection program save you money? 

    Whether the Clean Energy Program will provide financial returns for subscribers is difficult to determine. In order to see whether it’s worth it, we’ll compare the $100.20 annual cost for a one-kilowatt subscription ($8.35 per month) to the expected savings based on how much electricity those panels can make in a year.

    We used PVWatts to determine how much electricity one kW of premium solar panels in a large-scale solar farm can make in Hardee county over one year. We wanted to be thorough, so we compared three kinds of utility-scale installations:

    • Rack mount, in which panels are mounted on racks that are attached to concrete pilings in the ground
    • Single axis tracking, in which the ground-mounted racks are tilted vertically based on the height of the sun in the sky
    • Dual axis tracking, in which panels are mounted in groups on pivoting poles that track the sun both vertically and horizontally

    To be clear, we fully expect the Duke installations to use standard rack ground mounts, but because the savings per year are so small with this type of installation, we wanted to include the two other mounting methods to see whether the savings justify the cost in any way. We came up with the following numbers:

    System type kWh generated per year Savings per year ($.04/kWh Cost per year ($8.35/month)
    Rack mount, 27.5° tilt 1,589 kWh $63.56 $100.20
    Single axis tracking 1,953 kWh $78.12 $100.20
    Dual axis tracking 2,142 $85.68 $100.20

    The numbers in the table above indicate that even with extremely expensive dual axis tracking that Duke is likely not going to pay for, the savings generated by 1 kW of solar panels don’t come close to the cost of subscribing to a block. 

    In fact, in the very best-case scenario above, the subscriber wouldn’t see net savings until Year 14, and only recoup their investment after Year 25. We’re not sure how Duke thinks this program will save subscribers money, but we welcome the chance to look at Duke’s numbers for ourselves. 

    Now, there is still some good news here. Duke offers a better version of the Clean Energy Connection program for low-income households.

    The Clean Energy Connection program for income-qualified subscribers 

    Customers with proof of participation in a government assistance program or previous participation in Duke Energy's Neighborhood Energy Saver program can enjoy a much higher credit for every kWh their subscription generates. Duke hasn’t released details of how big that credit is, but it has promised that income-qualified subscribers will see immediate savings and a flat subscription fee for the entire term. 

    This is good news, because many low and fixed-income people can’t take advantage of the federal solar tax credit. The CEC program allows them to go solar and save money without the big upfront investment or a 25-year loan needed to purchase a system. 

    If you’re an income-qualified Duke customer, read more about the CEC program here.

    Duke Energy net metering

    The final program we’ll cover in this article is the best - and it is called net metering.

    Net metering is a billing arrangement that allows solar system owners to get credit for all the kWh their panels generate, which they can use to offset the cost of the energy they buy from the grid at night or when the sun isn’t shining brightly. 

    Florida’s net metering law has been on the books since 2008, and provides kWh credits for people who install solar panels on their roofs and are customers of Duke Energy Florida, Florida Power & Light, Florida Public Utilities Company, Gulf Power, and Tampa Electric Company (TECO).

    The economics of Duke Energy net metering 

    We mentioned above that the average Duke Energy Florida customer buys 1,450 kWh per month and has a bill of around $200. Of that $200, about $10.63 is the monthly customer charge, and the rest is the cost of the energy. Using solar energy, a Duke customer can eliminate energy charges down to a minimum bill of $30 per month.

    In order to generate an average of 1,450 kWh per month, the homeowner would need an 11.84 kW solar system, which would cost about $35,000 if they paid cash. The savings generated by this system would be about $2,100 in the first year. Combined with the federal solar tax credit that eliminates 26% of the cost of installing a solar system, it would pay back its cost in just under 11 years.

    Annual energy consumption and solar production for a Duke Energy Florida home with 11.84 kW of solar.

    Annual energy consumption and solar production for a Duke Energy Florida home with 11.84 kW of solar.

    The image above shows estimated solar production and home energy usage according to our solar panel cost calculator. The total net savings of this sized solar system would be about $48,700 after 25 years, with an annual investment return of 10.3%. Of course, every home is unique, and you can use the calculator to determine the specific size, cost, and savings of a solar system that will meet your exact needs. 

    Find out how much you can save annually by switching to solar

    Additional Duke Energy net metering rules 

    There are a couple important things to know about Duke Energy net metering - they have to do with the system size, minimum monthly bill, excess energy credits, and legislation that may affect net metering in the future. 

    System size 

    A net metered solar system in Duke territory can be sized to meet up to 100% of usage, but not more. Systems under 10 kW are “Tier 1” systems, and qualify for very simple grid interconnection, with no application fee or other requirements. This covers most home-sized systems. 

    Systems sized between 10 and 100 kW are “Tier 2” systems, and require an application fee of $240 and proof of $1 million in general liability coverage. 

    The additional cost of $1 million in general liability insurance on a homeowner’s policy is usually around $35 per year, but consult your broker for exact information. Many solar providers offer to pay the cost of increased insurance for the first year. 

    Minimum monthly bill & excess energy credits 

    Duke’s minimum monthly bill is now $30, as of January 1, 2022. Energy credits in excess of that will carry over to the next month’s bill, and be rolled over for 12 months within the calendar year. Any excess credit will be paid by Duke Energy at the non-firm wholesale rate, which is currently around $.02/kWh. 

    Legislation, the ballot box, and the future of Duke Energy Florida net metering 

    It’s hard to predict exactly what will happen in the future, but given the changes made to net metering in even the most solar-friendly states (like California), it is pretty certain that Florida’s utility companies will continue to pressure lawmakers to amend or remove the program.

    The clearest evidence we have of these kinds of changes is the recent increase in minimum monthly bills in Duke Energy Florida territory. Prior to 2022, the minimum bill had been around $10.50 per month, and customers on the net metering plan could use their energy credits to reduce the bill to that small amount. The new minimum has almost tripled, and so solar owners now stand to save less money with solar than they did in the not-so-distant past.

    A bill introduced in the Florida Senate in late 2021 seeks to end the net metering program and replace it with rules that require solar owners to pay additional monthly fees and accept less credit for the energy their systems send back to the grid. The bill was written by lobbyists from Florida Power & Light, who sent it to Senator Jennifer Bradley, who then introduced it into the Senate. Only before she did that, FPL contributed $10,000 to her political committee. 

    This bill is the latest attempt to change or end net metering in Florida, and it’s tempting to say it’ll fail because it’s obviously a hack job written by the industry it would most benefit. But if a state like California can propose a program that destroys net metering, we wouldn’t put it past Florida lawmakers.

    The good news is there is some hope that Florida citizens themselves will be able to vote in favor of more solar. A group called Floridians for Solar Choice is gathering petitions in support of a 2024 ballot question that will limit or prevent “government and electric utility imposed barriers to supplying local solar electricity.” If they’re successful and the ballot amendment passes, it could mean a bright future for Florida solar.

    For now, the present situation for Floridians who want solar is pretty good! Net metering is available to customers of Duke Energy in Florida, and it is highly unlikely that any law that changes it will affect those homeowners who installed solar before the changes take place. Because this important program remains available, the time to see if solar can work for your home is now. 

    Find out if going solar is worth it where you live
     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Ben Zientara

    Solar Policy Analyst and Researcher

    Ben is a writer, researcher, and data analysis expert who has worked for clients in the sustainability, public administration, and clean energy sectors.

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