Monday, January 8, 2018

Takeaways From Recent Power Posts

I read two very long articles recently about power in Florida, and it gave me a better understanding of the state of the state, though I'm still a bit concerned about whether it means anything to me or JEA. One article was specifically about Florida and the other was about the nation, but both make a difference for us in the Sunshine State.

I learned that someone (I won't accuse anyone) wanted to pass a law that seemed to protect consumers but really punished those with their own solar panels. This law failed. The article also discussed how the prices for consumer solar, as well as battery backups, continue to fall in price. All this means that we're getting closer to a point when Floridians see the purchase of their own solar panels as more than just investing in something unique or making a political statement, but as a viable economic decision. There was even some anecdotal evidence that solar panels on top of a roof make the roof cooler, thus using less electricity to cool the house in the first place (something called shade).

That article also described how FPL had once said solar power was prohibitively expensive, only to reverse course (after it proved profitable in Georgia), with plans to continue to add more solar every year. FPL, of course, wants consumers to pay for the solar rather than generate power of their own. However, it was noted that over 5% of FPL solar power is lost between the solar farms and the homes, so that small, local sources can have their own efficiencies. Either way, Floridians are using less fossil fuels for power, and that's probably a good thing.

BUT, we have the problem of when the sun does not shine or wind does not blow, and that's what was discussed in the other article. The federal government wanted to promote power sources that could survive problems with weather or whatnot, and the idea was to provide subsidies to power plants that could have a certain number of days of fuel stored and ready for whatever disaster was envisioned. Most of us in Florida know that 60 days of fuel isn't really what's going to keep power coming to our homes in a disaster: it's going to be the removal of water and rebuilding of the grid. In fact, I wonder how much sooner many in Puerto Rico would have had at least some power with neighborhood-level solar arrays at least getting some power back.

The federal government concluded that a mix is really the best option, deciding not to favor a nuclear or coal plant with months or years of reserves on hand. Again, this is probably the right decision, leaving the market more of a say rather than government picking winners. I know, some of you preppers out there are shaking your head as you await Armageddon. By all means, store as much propane and whatever else in your storage shed that makes you feel safe (just keep your guns in the safe in your bedroom).

All this leads to JEA, at least for those of us in Jacksonville. The coal power plant that's being decommissioned still seemed to be running last time I looked. The nuclear power plant that was supposed to be on-line in Georgia back in 2016 is now slated for 2019? (Really, America? This thing was approved in 2006. I know France and Finland have had similar issues, but in a country where we can produce 800,000 F-150s per year, can't we build a nuclear reactor faster than the French?)

Fine, we'll eventually have some nuclear power in the mix, but what about solar, JEA? JEA's website pats itself on the back for allowing me to pay more to them each month so that more of my power comes from solar...I don't understand the system. JEA's website also goes back to 2009 to talk up the largest solar farm in Florida (at the time). As I read more, it looks like JEA "will soon provide up to 300 MW of solar power." Just like we'll soon have 20% nuclear, or currently, or after I opt-in to pay more for my power? However, JEA does seem to allow net metering, which is basically what some other powers that be tried to end in Florida. We have among the highest potential in the country for rooftop solar power as a community, too, which is good if the investment is not too high.

Basically, the time is soon (probably before the nuclear reactor gets done) for people of Florida to cash in on falling solar installation and storage prices, and it might also be time for individuals to go ahead and do it for themselves rather than waiting for power companies. In fact, just in case there's a catastrophic problem, I'd rather consumers have more of the solar and the utility companies control more of the fossil fuels or nuclear, since I'd rather not have to deal with a reactor myself. I don't know what the price tag would be to get me to join in and cover my roof. If I can assume 50% savings on electricity on $200 per month usage (just spitballing here), then a $2500 system would only take two years to pay for itself, I guess. Now, if I only get 25% savings and the system costs $5000, then then we're talking eight years. When I looked into this type of system a decade ago, in the North, it was closer to 15 or 20 years of hoping the snow didn't kill the solar panels, so we're getting there.