When incentives are in hand, JinkoSolar to move quickly

FPL, which has been building solar plants around the state, is speculated as a customer for the Chinese company.

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JinkoSolar (U.S.) Industries Inc.’s plans for its Jacksonville solar-panel plant could unfold quickly if City Council signs off Tuesday, as expected, on fast-tracked legislation for incentives.

After that, all that remains for incentives is the state’s approval of its share of assistance, which the BloombergQuint Indian business and financial news site said Thursday could be in two weeks. 

JinkoSolar would be the first Chinese company to set up a factory in the U.S. after President Donald Trump approved tariffs in January of 30 percent on imported solar panel technology.

It also would set up its U.S. headquarters in Jacksonville, said council Vice President Aaron Bowman.

JinkoSolar has a deal to lease a warehouse at AllianceFlorida at Cecil Commerce Center. The plant would employ 200 workers by the end of 2019 and JinkoSolar would make a $50.5 million investment to build-out most of the 407,435-square-foot Westside building.

The city proposes tax incentives of $3.4 million, comprising a $3.2 million Recapture Enhanced Value grant to be paid over 10 years and a $200,000 Qualified Target Industry tax refund for JinkoSolar to be repaid over five years.

The state will pay the remaining $800,000 of the total $1 million QTI refund. Other state incentives were not specified in the city fact sheet.

Based on documents from JinkoSolar Holding Co. Ltd. and subsidiary JinksoSolar (U.S.); a March 16 letter to the Office of United States Trade Representative; a transcript from the Seeking Alpha service of the company’s Thursday earnings conference call; and other sources, work should start toward opening the plant by year-end 2019.

Those documents show that JinkoSolar plans to release details about the plant in the next couple of weeks. Operations could begin in Jacksonville in October.

The plant would make panels targeted to utility customers.

Those details might include the identity of the U.S. customer referred to in January.

JinkoSolar Holding said in the transcript that it signed a large solar module contract for 1.7 gigawatts with a U.S. company and is working on another sales contract for more than 1 gigawatt. The transcript said those orders can be filled by factories in Jacksonville and Southeast Asia. 

JinkoSolar expects advance payments from the U.S. company that can be leveraged to expand capacity.

Florida Power & Light’s Loggerhead Solar Energy Center in St. Lucie County started generating power March 1.
Florida Power & Light’s Loggerhead Solar Energy Center in St. Lucie County started generating power March 1.

JinkoSolar and the unidentified U.S. “counterparty” haven’t announced who it is, but industry speculation mentions Florida Power & Light Co.

S&P Global Platts in Houston reported Thursday that JinkoSolar’s first U.S. plant’s Florida location will be near Juno-based NextEra Energy Resources. Florida Power & Light is a rate-regulated electric utility subsidiary of NextEra. 

S&P Global Platts, which tracks the energy and commodities markets, said that in January, NextEra Energy executives told analysts that it had agreed to significant pre-tariff and future panel supply deals with an unidentified manufacturer.

That seems to coincide with JinkoSolar’s announcement Jan. 29 that JinkoSolar (U.S.) Inc. signed a major master solar module supply agreement with an unidentified U.S. counterparty.

Shanghai-based JinkoSolar said then that its board authorized its U.S. subsidiary to finalize planning for the construction of an advanced solar manufacturing facility in the United States. 

When asked Friday if the solar-panel contract was with FPL, JinkoSolar (U.S.) Business Development Director Jeff Juger declined to comment.

He said Monday that JinkoSolar sells to most of the major developers and independent power producers in the U.S.

FPL spokesman Stephen Heiman also was asked about the possibility of a contract between the two. “Respectfully, we decline to comment,” he said Monday.

FPL has been buying solar panels.  It announced March 1 that it opened four solar power plants that meant “another 1 million-plus solar panels” are powering the utility’s customers

The release said FPL “is in the midst of one of the largest solar expansions ever in the U.S. with more than 3.5 million new solar panels added in the last two years alone.” Heiman declined to comment when asked if FPL or NextEra have acquired panels from JinkoSolar.

From 2016 to 2023, FPL expects to install more than 10 million solar panels, it said. The utility says it already is the largest generator of solar energy in the state with 14 major solar power plants and other installations that total 930 megawatts.

A megawatt is 1,000 kilowatts. One megawatt is enough to power about 750 homes at once, according to the California Energy Commission. A gigawatt is equal to 1,000 megawatts.

FPL said that in 2018, it completed eight new solar energy centers that will generate more than $100 million in total system savings for customers, over and above the cost of constructing and operating the plants.

The utility said its rates are decreasing as the company’s “typical customer bill continues to be lower than it was more than a decade ago.” It also says FPL’s typical consumer bill is about 30 percent below the national average.

FPL’s four newest centers are in Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie and Hendry counties. 

In addition to those, FPL said it operates plants and solar installations in Alachua, Putnam, Desoto, Charlotte, Manatee, Martin, Volusia and Miami-Dade counties.

FPL and co-owner JEA, owned by the city of Jacksonville, closed the St. Johns River Power Park, the second and largest of three coal-fired plants that FPL is phasing out.

FPL also appears to be open to the possibility of more plants.

In September, it bought about 1,310 acres in Nassau County but didn’t announce development plans for the purchase. It bought the bulk of the 1,814-acre Crawford Diamond Industrial Park owned by Yulee-based Rayonier Inc. for $13.1 million.

FPL serves about 4.9 million customer accounts, about 10 million people, across about half the state. As of 2016, it served customers in 35 of the state’s 67 counties, including Nassau, Duval, Clay, Baker and St. Johns in Northeast Florida. Most of Duval is served by JEA.

Heiman said in November the utility “is always planning ahead to ensure we are prepared to meet the needs of our customers in the future.”

“Accordingly, we routinely purchase parcels that we believe would help us meet those needs, whether they be for distribution facilities, a service center or a solar power plant,” he said.