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Regulators approve another solar plant

The Public Service Commission overturned a staff recommendation and voted 4-1 today to allow Tampa Electric to enter an agreement with a West Palm Beach-based company to purchase solar power, and charge customers a premium for it.

Energy 5.0 will build the 25 megawatt plant next year and sell electricity to TECO for a fixed price over the 25-year life of the contract. The PSC allowed TECO to charge its customers an estimated 52 cents a month beginning in 2011 to pay for the solar power, estimated to cost customers at least $270 million over 25 years. The cost to customers would drop to 19 cents a month in 2035, and could drop more if state and federal governments establish renewable energy credits that utility companies can receive.

The $130 million plant will provide enough power to serve 3,400 homes in TECO's service area at an undisclosed cost per kilowatt hour over the life of the project. The company argues that it will be slightly less expensive to operate than Florida Power & Light's new DeSoto County solar plant, the nation's largest project of its kind which opened in October. 

Commissioner Nathan Skop was the only commissioner to vote against the decision because he estimates customers could pay as much as $44 million more than the cost per kilowatt hour to produce the electricity. He argued: “I feel the ratepayers are overpaying. It's not because I do not support renewables,'' he said.

The staff had urged the commission accept the application but not allow customers to be charged the full cost of the solar-powered electricity, only the portion of it. TECO said that would kill the project.

Commissioners Matthew Carter, Nancy Argenziano and David Klement said they approved the project to help jump start the market in Florida for renewable energy and help wean the state from its dependence on fossil fuels.