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FPL aims to cut nearly all carbon emissions by 2045Natural gas-fired power plants to be converted

  • Jun 16, 2022
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Palm Beach Post

Florida Power & Light said it will pursue an aggressive goal to produce nearly all of its electricity from carbon-free renewable sources by 2045.

All told, by mid-century, FPL's electric generation will depend on non-carbon emitting sources for 99% of its electric generation. Many of its current fleet of natural gas-fired power plants will be converted to "green hydrogen."

The utility took the step of trademarking its plan, called "Real Zero," to tout its distinct move in comparison to other utility companies that have committed to "net zero" carbon goals. In net-zero programs, carbon dioxide is still emitted but offset through carbon sequestration or by purchasing credits.

The former chairman and CEO of NextEra Energy, the parent company of FPL, last year called net-zero efforts "disingenuous."

The move comes amid a years-long effort by FPL and its parent to broaden electricity generation from solar, wind and other non-fossil fuel-powered sources. The move is sure to draw attention given that NextEra is a global energy giant, and Florida remains a rapidly growing state with a globalized economy.

The electric utility, Florida's largest, lists 5.7 million customer accounts, or 12 million people, more than half of the state's population. Likewise, FPL's service territory covers the bulk of the state.

FPL's chief said move toward renewables not "a sprint"

NextEra announced the "Real Zero" goal, which extends to FPL and the company's clean energy subsidiary, NextEra Energy Resources, on Tuesday. NextEra bills itself as the largest owner and operator of solar in the United States, said Eric Silagy, FPL chairman and CEO.

Silagy called the plan "not a sprint" but in line with what the company has done in the past as it weaned itself off foreign oil and, going forward, natural gas.

"What we announced today is just an extension of that kind of philosophy, that plan, that march toward further efficiency," Silagy said in an interview with The Palm Beach Post. "Now, we're going to leverage technology that simply didn't exist 20 years ago in an economic way, and we're going to develop more solar, more battery storage than ever before."

The Juno Beach-based company will spend the next two decades decarbonizing the energy resources from the power plants it owns as well as purchases of electricity from other utilities.

The company also said in a news release it would "provide greater transparency" in reducing carbon emissions from sources like business travel or waste disposal by working with supply chain partners and customers.

The move toward renewables should inject some stability into customer bills as FPL relies less on natural gas, which is vulnerable to price volatility at a time when consumers are getting hammered by gasoline costs at the pump. Fuel used to power FPL's power plants is a cost passed on to customers.

In Florida, FPL will depend on solar farms, green hydrogen

In Florida, "Real Zero" will be realized by significantly expanding FPL's solar farms, battery storage and converting some of its natural gas plants to "green hydrogen" plants.

Green hydrogen uses solar energy to power the process of electrolysis that creates hydrogen as the fuel and water vapor as the emission. FPL is currently testing a green hydrogen plant at the site of its Okeechobee gas-powered plant.

By 2045, FPL's energy mix will be 83% from solar, battery storage and green hydrogen; 16% nuclear and 1% renewable natural gas, said FPL spokesperson Chris McGrath.

Existing natural gas-powered units capable of producing 16,000 megawatts of energy will be converted to use green hydrogen, while another 6,000 megawatts will use renewable natural gas.

Renewable natural gas, which refers to the gas from decomposing organic matter, is described as a carbon-neutral fuel, but still releases carbon dioxide when it is burned. FPL plans to use renewable natural gas "for reliability purposes only," McGrath said.

Other gas-powered plants will be retired at the end of their useful life, Silagy said.

FPL currently has the capability of generating 4,000 megawatts of power through solar, but will expand to 90,000 megawatts; similarly, FPL will boost its battery storage from 500 megawatts 100-fold.

The utility also will continue to use nuclear, of which it has the capacity of producing 3,500 megawatts of power.

Renewable energy advocate seems pleased with direction of FPL plan

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a Tennessee-based nonprofit that promotes the use of renewable resources, said it was still reviewing NextEra Energy's plan but said at first blush it is "directionally correct and has many components that we believe are necessary, primarily that solar power can and must play a substantially larger role in meeting our carbon reduction targets."

"We are pleased to see NextEra and FPL set an ambitious carbon target with significant investment in additional solar power. We continue to believe that solar power is a workhorse technology in reducing carbon emissions, and FPL's goal advances this commitment," said Stephen A. Smith, executive director of SACE, adding that they would monitor the development of green hydrogen technology.

Absent from this plan, he said, is "any commitment to energy efficiency" to help customers reduce their consumption.

Plus, a bill crafted by FPL and pushed through the Legislature this year would have eventually eliminated the existing financial incentives for selling back excess solar energy is antithetical to the "Real Zero" goal, Smith added. The legislation, however, was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis

"We hope FPL will abandon their attacks on customer-owned solar systems as all forms of clean energy will be needed to meet these goals," he said.

Hannah Morse covers consumer issues for The Palm Beach Post. Drop a line at hmorse@pbpost.com, call 561-820-4833 or follow her on Twitter @mannahhorse.

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