Duke Energy Florida announced plans to double its solar energy capacity.

The utility, which serves much of Pinellas County, said Wednesday is asking for permission from the Florida Public Service Commission to build 750 megawatts of new solar energy installations through its “Clean Energy Connection Program.” It is currently in the process of completing 700 megawatts of solar capacity from a plan announced in 2017.

“This is an opportunity that provides customers a way to provide them solar access while actually lowering their bills over time,” spokeswoman Ana Gibbs said.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Vote Solar and Walmart provided input on the plan.

Customers, Gibbs said, would be charged for the $1 billion project if it is approved and built. What’s different about this round is that the amount they will be charged depends on how many customers opt into the plan, which will offset what customers who aren’t participating pay. Because of this structure, the utility doesn’t yet have an estimate for how bills would be affected.

Customers can purchase a block of solar power for $8.35 per kilowatt. In exchange for the addition to their monthly bill, customers will receive a credit back that will grow each year they participate. After about five years, Duke Energy said, the credit will be greater than the amount a customer pays to participate in the program.

This is meant to allow customers who don’t have access to rooftop solar, such as those in apartments or for whom the cost is prohibitive, to participate in clean energy savings.

Duke Energy said 26 megawatts are set aside for low-income customers. A quarter of the project is slated for residential subscriptions and three-quarters will go to commercial and industrial customers, including local governments.

“We appreciate Duke Energy’s openness to allowing more cost-effective solar power to reduce the need for additional fossil fuel assets and provide a cleaner energy mix to Florida customers,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Currently, Duke Energy is courting a round of early subscribers to help cover a majority of the cost of the project. One such subscriber is the city of St. Petersburg, which asked for 28.3 megawatts in the program, just under 4 percent of the project’s total.

“I think our energy providers in Florida have a long way to go compared to some other states,” said Sharon Wright, the city’s director of the office of sustainability and resilience. “This is the best thing we have right now in our state and we wanted to show that we’ll support the steps they take toward (full renewable energy).”

Gibbs said that 12 commercial and industrial customers have reserved 540 megawatts of capacity thus far — a little more than 70 percent of the project — and local governments will have until the end of August to enroll.

If approved, the plan would be completed between 2022 and 2024.

Source: Tampa Bay Times