TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) —  Florida Power & Light customers can now contribute money to help the company pay for solar-energy projects, thanks to an approved program.

State regulators approved the program Tuesday despite opposition from two groups that work to expand the use of solar power.

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FPL said the three-year pilot program is a way for a wide range of customers to participate in solar projects. Company attorney Maria Moncada told the state Public Service Commission that many customers cannot install rooftop solar panels because of the costs or other factors such as not owning their homes.

The program would not increase costs for customers who do not want to participate.

“(The program) is entirely voluntary,” Moncada said. “Customers can join or cancel their enrollment at any time.”

While the commission approved the pilot program, FPL faced a series of questions from regulators and opposition from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Vote Solar, two groups that promote solar energy.

Stephen A. Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, issued a statement after the commission meeting saying, in part, that the program would “do nothing to advance solar energy in the Sunshine State.”

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“We are disappointed that the Florida Public Service Commission is allowing Florida Power & Light to go forward with a misleading, public relations gimmick masquerading as a solar program offered by the state’s largest utility,” Smith said.

Under the program, FPL will work with cities to get sites and build relatively small solar-energy projects. Moncada said the utility has been involved in discussions with West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Sarasota, Doral and Cutler Bay.

Also, the utility will conduct a marketing campaign to try to encourage customers to sign up for the program. Up to 20 percent of the money collected from customers could go to marketing and administrative costs.

Public Service Commission member Lisa Edgar, who voted against the proposal, raised repeated questions about issues such as the marketing and cost-effectiveness of the program. Edgar said she supports efforts to increase the use of renewable energy, but she indicated frustration about not receiving enough detailed information Tuesday.

“I am, quite frankly, a little stunned at the lack of answers I have been given today,” Edgar said.
The News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders contributed to this report. 

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