The Florida Municipal Power Agency (“FMPA”) held a public meeting on Thursday, February 16, in which the agency shared the results of a solar survey conducted among the residential electric customers of ten of the city utilities that are FMPA members.
Michael Vigeant, CEO of Great Blue Research, presented the survey results to the FMPA board. The survey found that 71.7% of surveyed residents saw the need for solar, citing solar’s environmental and economic advantages.
The survey further found that some customers (31.8% of surveyed residents) would even be willing to pay more on their monthly electric bills in exchange for their utility adding a solar farm to the grid. On this metric, Mr. Vigeant pointed out that a percentage greater than 25 generally indicates a “high level of interest.”
He also pointed out that 9.5% of surveyed residents did not feel they had sufficient information to say whether they would pay more, while 45.2% said it was not at all likely that they would be willing to pay more for their utility to add solar to the grid.
City members of FMPA have expressed varying levels of interest in obtaining some of its power from what would be the first solar plant in the agency’s portfolio. Nameplate capacity estimates for this first potential joint action solar project have hovered around sixteen megawatts.
FMPA scores extremely well among its residential customers for reliability, ease of billing and payment, and customer service.
The survey, however, did not address customers’ satisfaction with their utilities’ electricity rates and instead introduced a counter-intuitive theory that solar power might somehow raise, rather than lower these customers’ electricity bills. Yet these customers indicated that they would be much more likely to participate in (potentially bill-raising) utility-scale solar farms than having panels installed on their roofs. These results reveal an opportunity for utilities to offer solar power to their customers, even if the utility cannot compete with the economic benefits of customer-sited solar.
Since rooftop solar is commonly known to substantially lower residential customers’ electricity costs, the question is whether FMPA will be able to address the utility-scale opportunity that the survey results present before the ever-increasing rate of customer-sited rooftop solar erodes away too much of that opportunity.
Separate and apart from the FMPA initiative, some individual municipalities have entered into agreements to purchase power or are currently purchasing power from solar farms around the state. Among these are Lakeland, Orlando, Jacksonville, and Tallahassee.
Tim Hughes is an attorney in the Solar Industry Practice Group at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP, where he monitors regulatory developments and market trends and provides experienced counsel and representation in the development, financing, and construction of solar power systems.
 FMPA is a wholesale electric power agency owned by community electric utilities located throughout Florida from the Panhandle to Key West. FMPA provides economies of scale in power generation and related services to those utilities, and in that connection, FMPA has been considering adding solar power to its portfolio of power plants in the form of potentially constructing a joint-action solar power project among certain FMPA member cities.
 Whether it is truly necessary to pay more to add a solar farm is more a function of utility finance than the sheer dollars and cents of building and operating a new solar farm versus building and operating a new gas turbine or a combined cycle power plant, not to mention the costs involved in the associated infrastructure, such as gas pipelines. Moreover, it bears mentioning that the fuel for a solar farm is free. Even so, if it were to cost more to add solar to the grid, the interest in FMPA adding solar is such that at least some customers would even be willing to pay more for it. In fact, 18.7% would be willing to pay as much as $20.00 more per month.
 At least one anecdote was offered at the board meeting to support the claim that customer-sited rooftop solar does not reduce a residential customer’s electricity costs.