Florida Power & Light CEO Eric Silagy was the keynote speaker at the Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Luncheon held Thursday, Oct. 17 at the Breakers West Country Club. Silagy’s presentation centered on FPL’s focus on forward-thinking technology.
Silagy was introduced by Central Palm Beach County Chamber Chair John Carter, who shared some insights on the future of FPL.
“When it comes to clean energy and resiliency, FPL is leading the way. As you may know, FPL is rapidly expanding solar energy across the state, including right here in Palm Beach County,” Carter said. “FPL’s plan to install 30 million solar panels in Florida by 2030 is making our state a world leader in solar energy. I think that speaks volumes, and we all ought to be very proud they are located right here in our hometown.”
Silagy thanked the room full of business and civic of leaders in attendance. He noted that the contributions of both government entities and businesses keep the area both stable and strong.
“We are really excited as a company at all the opportunities across the state, starting right here in Palm Beach County. A thousand people a day are coming in and moving to Florida,” Silagy said. “It’s because this area, as well as the whole state, is a very attractive place to live, grow your business and relocate to. Palm Beach County is one of the top 50 places to locate your business. That doesn’t happen by accident.”
Silagy provided statistics to support the growth and importance of Florida, which now has a one-trillion-dollar economy. If Florida were a country, its economy would rank as the 17th largest in the world, in front of Switzerland and Argentina.
“I’m proud of how this state has managed its finances. We have a AAA rating as a state, and you shouldn’t underestimate the value of that,” he said, noting that FPL’s parent company NextEra Energy has a footprint across the country. “We do business in 48 states and have assets in 36 states, whether that be power plants, wind turbines or solar farms. We serve 12 million Floridians by our combined companies.”
Silagy explained how over the last two decades, NextEra and subsequently FPL made the conscious decision to change the way its utilities do business.
“Now, it’s kind of cool to be green. The result is now one of the cleanest utilities in the United States — 30 percent cleaner than the national average and 65 percent cleaner than it was 15 years ago,” Silagy said. “It’s important for a variety of reasons. One, it’s the right thing to do for all of us who live here and raise our families here, but it’s darn good business. Not because of the statistics, but because this state relies on a clean environment to be successful.”
Florida is the number-one destination for tourists in the world. More people visited Orlando last year, 64 million in total, than the entire state of California. Overall, the state had more than 126 million visitors. “We are trying to lead by example. We are trying to push the entire industry nationally to be better,” Silagy said. “This has been a march, not a sprint. It has been 20 years of tearing down plants, buying out old facilities, blowing them up, bulldozing and building clean energy facilities instead.”
The efforts to find more renewable energy resources goes back to the early 1990s, but in 2001, FPL’s commitment to change took hold. Overall, the utility has gone from burning more than 40 million barrels of oil in a year to a 98 percent reduction in its oil consumption.
“We’ve saved $10 billion since 2001 by switching power plants. That’s not because prices have gone down, it’s the difference in fuel we simply didn’t purchase,” Silagy said. “Between three plants — Port Everglades, Rivera Beach and Canaveral — we saved all of you a quarter of a million dollars in fuel we didn’t buy. It’s a huge amount that makes a difference in everybody’s lives, and most importantly, it has helped us wean ourselves off of foreign oil.”
The next phase of FPL’s planned development is the construction of more solar panel facilities. Now that the cost of building the panels has come down, the utility is diving in and taking advantage of Florida’s sunshine.
“In 2007, we built a facility that covered 180 acres and had more than 9,000 panels. At the time, it was the largest solar panel facility ever built in the U.S., and the second largest in the world. It was such a big deal that President Obama flew down to cut the ribbon,” he said. “It looks quaint now compared to what we are doing.”
NextEra has 14,000 wind turbines across the country, using more wind-derived electricity than any other company in the world. These do not exist in Florida because, logistically, it simply doesn’t make sense.
“Part of the whole thing about renewable [energy] is you have to be economically disciplined. There is no silver bullet. Solar in Florida makes sense now — it didn’t 10 years ago or 20 years ago,” Silagy said. “Florida is going to be the second largest solar producer in America. We have 18 solar farms in operation and are now building 10 more. We are using different technology so we can be as efficient as possible, and solar is here to stay.”
Other new technology high on FPL’s list is the development of better battery technology to go in line with the new solar initiative. The utility is now in the process of building the world’s largest battery facility in Manatee County.
“The battery facility is the biggest in the world by four-fold,” Silagy said. “I am proud of showcasing Florida as an innovative, forward-thinking state. Every step, we are looking at smarter ways of doing business.”