Solar In The Sunshine State: Tampa Electric Commits To 600 MW Under Rate Settlement

Tampa Electric, an investor-owned electric utility in Florida, has reached a rate settlement agreement with various parties to significantly expand the company’s use of solar power and provide rate certainty to customers.

During the next four years, Tampa Electric plans to install 6 million solar panels at 10 new solar PV projects across its service territory in West Central Florida. In total, the utility plans to add 600 MW of solar energy to its fleet, which is enough electricity to power more than 100,000 homes and represents a large boost to the nearly 27 MW of solar installations it currently owns and operates. When the planned projects are complete, nearly 7% of Tampa Electric‘s energy generation will come from the sun. The Tampa-based utility serves about 75,000 customers.

According to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), Tampa Electric’s new commitment, relative to the company’s size, would place it among the leading utilities in the Southeast region on solar power. Notably, though, utility Florida Power & Light, which serves millions of customers across nearly half of Florida, has some major solar plans of its own in the Sunshine State.

Tampa Electric says the parties involved in its settlement agreement include Florida’s Office of Public Counsel, the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Industrial Power User’s Group, a consortium of hospitals, and the federal government – representing MacDill Air Force Base.

In addition to the solar expansion, Tampa Electric has agreed not to raise its base rates for four years.

“This is a continuation of Tampa Electric‘s long-standing commitment to clean energy,” says Gordon Gillette, president and CEO of the Tampa-based utility, in a press release. “We have long believed in the promise of renewable energy, and we believe now is the time to add large utility-scale solar generation, as the costs of construction have come down and while federal tax credits remain in place. And [parent company] Emera’s philosophy is to transition power generation to less carbon intensity while remaining affordable for our customers.

“Our customers have asked us for more solar technology – and we heard them,” adds Gillette. “This expansion in solar power will have minimal initial rate impact and will be cheaper for customers in the long run.”

The first phase, which includes two projects totaling almost 150 MW, is scheduled to be complete in September 2018. The second phase, which includes four projects totaling about 250 MW, is scheduled to be complete by Jan. 1, 2019. Two other phases are scheduled to be complete by Jan. 1 of 2020 and 2021.

“The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy applauds Tampa Electric‘s leadership on expanding solar power in the Sunshine State,” says Dr. Stephen A. Smith, executive director of SACE. “We strongly feel that solar power is good for customers and the environment by diversifying the energy portfolio and by providing low-cost, zero-emissions energy for Florida’s families and businesses. We look forward to working with Tampa Electric as they offer more clean energy options and embrace new technologies that will make Tampa a more resilient community.”

Tampa Electric says it is purchasing land and solar panels, and the company plans to invest about $850 million in these solar projects over four years. As the solar projects are completed, the utility claims they will cost a typical residential customer (who uses 1,000 kWh per month) about 1% a year, or about $1 on the average monthly residential bill. Over their lifetimes, the projects will provide savings to customers in the form of lower fuel costs, the utility adds.

Tampa Electric has filed a request with the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) to approve the rate settlement agreement that is making these projects possible. The agreement also includes a provision that Tampa Electric will not increase its general base rates before Jan. 1, 2022. The PSC is expected to vote on the agreement by the end of this year. The company will continue to be able to recover costs related to storms, environmental and fuel, the utility notes.

Tampa Electric says the significant addition of solar energy is part of the company’s strategy to reduce its carbon footprint, which started in 1999 with the repowering of the former coal-fired Gannon Station to natural gas and, most recently, included the expansion of the Polk Power Station’s gas units to combined cycle.

The agreement also paves the way for Tampa Electric to replace its existing radio-signal meters in homes and businesses with remotely-read meters. The utility says it also has plans for community solar, electric vehicles and battery storage that will be emerging soon. Tampa Electric says it continues to exceed the PSC-approved annual energy-efficiency goals and is actively working on several innovative conservation programs, further demonstrating its commitment to operating in a way that is respectful and protective of the environment.

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