September 27th, 2007 11:51 AM by Karyn Smith
Thursday, September 27, 2007
NEW YORK — FPL Group Inc. plans to invest $2.4 billion in a clean-energy program intended to combat global warming by improving conservation and boosting solar-energy production in Florida and possibly other states.
The investment includes about $900 million to build a 300-megawatt solar-energy plant in Florida.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and FPL Group Chief Executive Officer Lew Hay III joined with Clinton in making the announcement at the former president's gathering of world leaders, business tycoons and nonprofit groups. This year's meeting focused on topics including poverty, education and climate change.
Clinton praised Crist and FPL, calling the program "a huge deal for America and, I think, a huge deal for people potentially all around the world."
The solar plant will use technology from Ausra Inc., a company based in Palo Alto, Calif., FPL spokesman Michael Williams said.
With the solar-thermal technology, the sun's rays are not converted directly into electricity. Instead, they heat water to make steam that spins power-generating turbines.
The plant will produce 300 megawatts, enough to power about 45,000 homes while preventing the creation of nearly 11 million tons of carbon-dioxide emissions over 20 years.
Juno Beach-based FPL plans to first build a 10-megawatt test plant at an existing energy-production site in Florida. If technical, cost and regulatory requirements are met, it will expand to 300 megawatts, the company said.
The company has not decided on a Florida location and is still considering additional sites in other states, including California, Williams said.
Crist said Florida is ideal for this project.
"We are the Sunshine State. What better place to have solar energy?" Crist said. "No state is more vulnerable than Florida to the catastrophes triggered by global climate change."
FPL Group is close to completing a 250-kilowatt solar array in Sarasota as part of its Sunshine Energy green-power program.
Crist has pushed hard on energy and climate issues, pursuing goals of reducing Florida's carbon emissions 10 percent by 2012, 25 percent by 2017 and 40 percent by 2025. His state car runs on ethanol and the Governor's Mansion has newly installed solar panels.
"State government is leading by example," he said.
Noting the contrast of a Republican governor speaking alongside a former Democratic president, Crist said he would "stand with anyone, regardless of party, to make sure that we continue to push this issue."
FPL customers are unlikely to notice the new clean-energy program at first, Hay said after the announcement.
"That's kind of how we like it," he said. "We provide an essential service, and when our customers go to flip that switch they want the lights to be on and they really don't want to think about their power company."
But, Hay said, customers do notice their bills, and he thinks FPL's strategy of making changes gradually will avoid a consumer backlash.
"As we make these investments and we make more of them, the cost should go down in such a way that hopefully, in the long run, it won't be any more costly for our customers," he said.
Hay said Florida customers will notice new "smart meters" to help them manage energy use.
FPL's utility unit, Florida Power & Light Co., which serves 4.5 million residential and business customers in 35 Florida counties, plans to invest $500 million in the technology, which will allow customers to view their power consumption online.
During a Merrill Lynch investors conference earlier Wednesday, Hay said FPL has more than 50,000 smart meters in Florida. He said he considers the meters to be examples of a "leading-edge technology" that has been "working incredibly well."
A third project involves a renewable-energy education program from FPL Energy LLC, the FPL unit operating outside Florida.
Next year, FPL Energy will offer residential and business customers nationwide the chance to offset the carbon-dioxide emissions they cause by buying products associated with the company's renewable-energy facilities.
The expected $400 million in revenues over five years will be applied toward creating more renewable energy, the company said.
FPL Energy already owns the world's largest solar thermal fields in the Mojave Desert and is the nation's largest generator of wind power, with 52 wind facilities in 16 states.
Hay said renewable energy is good business. "We think that we can make money making these kind of investments," he said. "The more we do in this area, the more we learn about it, the lower our costs are going to be and the better-positioned we're going to be for the world to come, which is going to be a very different world."