How a Florida Utility Became the Global King of Green Power

By Russell Gold

Who is the world’s largest operator of wind and solar farms? It’s also America’s most valuable power company. Still stumped? It’s by design.

“That is a marketing problem…that we foster intentionally,”  Michael O’Sullivan, NextEra Energy Inc.’s head of renewable development, told University of Notre Dame students in 2015.

A NextEra Washington State wind farm.

The Florida company has grown into a green Goliath, almost entirely under the radar, not through taking on heavy debt to expand or by touting its greenness, but by relentlessly capitalizing on government support for renewable energy, in particular the tax subsidies that help finance wind and solar projects around the country. It then sells the output to utilities, many of which must procure power from green sources to meet state mandates.

NextEra has been careful to build sites only after it has customers lined up, avoiding debt problems that sank rivals such as SunEdison Inc. And it has assiduously avoided the kind of claims of altruistic motives that are common among some green-energy companies.

“They were focused on business fundamentals and not the Hollywood status” that comes with being a champion of green power, said Andrew Hoffman, a University of Michigan business professor who was on a NextEra advisory board until 2012.

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