The FPL SolarTogether Program: is it worth it?
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Florida is the Sunshine State, yet it lags behind less-sunny states in the amount of solar installed per person, and the state’s largest utility company, Florida Power & Light (FPL), has certainly noticed. One of the ways FPL has offered solar energy to customers is through its SolarTogether program.
SolarTogether is a way for FPL customers to directly support solar projects installed in the state. It works on a subscription model, where people pay a flat monthly fee to subscribe to a certain number of kW of solar panels, then earn savings based on the output of those panels.
FPL says the SolarTogether program allows subscribers to enjoy the benefits of renewable energy without a large upfront cost or commitment of installing solar on their own roof. In fact, SolarTogether admits anyone who is an FPL customer, including renters, to join. The utility claims the program will save a subscriber a good deal of money if they stay in the program for many years.
FPL dedicated the generation from five solar projects totaling 1,490 megawatts (MW) of output for the SolarTogether program. The program is currently fully subscribed and closed to new applicants, but more capacity may open in the future. Below, we’ll look at the most recent terms to discover whether FPL’s claims of savings are true, and whether SolarTogether might be something people should consider when space opens up again.
FPL’s SolarTogether program operates on a subscription model that allows any FPL customer to pay a flat monthly fee per kilowatt (kW) of solar panels, and receive credits on their energy bill based on the kilowatt-hours (kWh) that those panels produce during each month.
For example, say a person in Miami subscribes to 4 kW of solar from the SolarTogether Program for $27.04 per month. The subscription begins in May. The panels produce 800 kWh in May, and the subscriber earns a $27.43 credit on their bill. The net savings to the subscriber for that month is $0.39 ($27.43 minus $27.04).
FPL customers can choose to subscribe to any number of kW, up to a size that would produce enough energy to offset their average electric bill. The subscription could be canceled or reduced at any time, but the customer could not re-subscribe for at least 12 months after canceling.
When the program was enrolling participants, the subscription charge and bill credits were as follows:
Over time, the subscription charge is set to stay at exactly $6.76/kW per month, while the credit rate is set to increase by 1.45% per year. This meant the savings for the average customer would increase over time. The same customer above would earn a larger credit each year for the same amount of production, and they would theoretically begin to save more money on their electric bill.
This is similar to the model of a community solar program, but instead of offering full-retail credits for the energy, FPL offers just pennies on the dollar.
Let’s look at an example based on numbers that are in FPL’s rules for the program. FPL projected that the 1,490 MW of solar panels installed at its five program locations would produce an estimated 3,074,672 MWh of electricity in a year. That’s about 2,288 MWh per MW, or to simplify, 2,288 kWh per kW.
Using the simplest math we can, the yearly subscription charge would be $6.76 times 12, or $81.12, while the annual savings would be 2,288 times $0.0342881, or about $78.45. So participating in the first year of the program would cost the customer about $2.67 per kW subscribed more than they would have otherwise paid.
That doesn’t sound like a good deal, does it? But what about those increasing credits? Well, the projections in the tariff show that participants begin to see a net annual savings around Year 4, and by Year 25, each subscribed kW saves a subscriber about $21.72.
Taking it as a whole, a person who subscribed at 11 kW (about enough to offset a $100 average monthly bill in Miami) can expect to see nearly $3,900 in savings over 30 years of being in the program. That’s only $130 per year in average savings.
That’s not nothing, but it’s also not a lot. Especially because most of the savings come far into the future, SolarTogether is only for people who want to support solar but expect very little reward. It is important to point out that there is no commitment and very little risk associated with the program.
If you own a home in FPL territory in Florida, you can install solar panels on your roof and apply for Florida net metering. That means the solar energy your panels produce goes directly to lowering your bill by the retail rate for every kWh generated. The current retail rate is around $0.12/kWh, which is much bigger than the SolarTogether credit rate.
The savings on energy bills with an 11 kW rooftop solar installation would be on the order of $1,900 per year to start, and would increase over time as FPL raises rates. But there are also costs. The payments on a 20-year solar loan for that system might cost around $160 per month, or $1,920 per year. While that does wipe out all those savings in the first year, the solar loan comes with a few other notable advantages.
Learn more: Everything you need to know about solar loans
First, there’s the federal solar tax credit, which is equal to 30% of the cost to install solar. That’ll earn you almost $13,000 back on your tax bill after just one year. People who subscribe to SolarTogether cannot get a tax credit. In addition, the savings on energy bills increase over time, and once the loan is paid off, they all go straight to your bottom line. The average 25-year savings with a solar loan in Florida is $22,835.
Even without other incentives, buying your own solar system beats the SolarTogether program by a ton. But it’s only available to people who own their home and have the ability to claim the tax credit.
The SolarTogether program was designed by FPL to allow a number of its customers to “directly” support clean energy while saving a small amount of money on their energy bills over time. In the broadest sense, it succeeded. FPL got to build new renewable generation and keep selling electricity to the public while looking like a climate hero.
More cynically, SolarTogether was just another way for FPL to further entrench itself as a monopoly. The company knows how potent a challenge rooftop solar poses to its business model and it desires nothing more than to be the sole source of electricity for customers in its service territory. SolarTogether was a way for it to lend the sheen of sustainability to those actions.
In fact, the SolarTogether program wasn’t specifically designed for residential customers. Instead, 75% of the capacity available for subscription was earmarked for large commercial and industrial users.
FPL hasn’t let up on its crusade against customer-owned solar, as evinced by its foul birthing of SB 1024, which was shunted to a state lawmaker, along with thousands of dollars in donations and rushed through both houses of the state legislature. Thankfully the bill failed, or we’d be singing a very different tune about the prospects for Floridians who want to go solar.
FPL doesn’t hate solar energy, they just hate the idea that anyone other than they could take advantage of it. SolarTogether was a way to toss some table scraps to people hungry for change, and everything else FPL has done recently is a way to make sure programs like SolarTogether are the best those people (or as FPL sees them, customers) can hope for.