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Florida Today: Municipal utilities expand solar operations in Florida in groundbreaking deal

Friday, May 04, 2018


Solar power will be coming to 12 municipal utilities throughout Florida, under a groundbreaking agreement detailed Friday at the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa.

As part of what’s being called the Florida Municipal Solar Project, utilities from Jacksonville Beach to Key West will receive solar power from three “solar farms” that will be built at sites in Orange and Osceola counties.

NextEra Florida Renewables LLC, a sister company of Florida Power & Light Co., will be building the solar farms, then owning and operating them. The specific sites have not yet been announced.

The municipal utilities that are part of the partnership are in Alachua, Bartow, Fort Pierce, Homestead, Jacksonville Beach, Key West, Kissimmee, Lake Worth, Ocala, Orlando, Wauchula and Winter Park.

This joint effort is one of the largest municipal-backed solar projects in the United States.

“This is moving the needle in Florida,” said Matt Valle, president of NextEra Florida Renewables.

“This is major,” said James Fenton, director of the Florida Solar Energy Center. “This is really a turning point in the way of not only a partnership in bringing all these utilities acting together so they can purchase something at an economy of scale, but it engages the communities. This is just a game-breaking kind of change. This is a big start for Florida to move in a way where the community and the citizens are leading, and the municipal utilities are allowing them to go forward with sustainable energy.”

A total of 900,000 solar panels will be installed on three solar sites. Combined, the three sites will total about 1,200 acres, or the equivalent of more than 900 football fields, and will be filled with solar panels.

The project will have a total generating capacity of 223.5 megawatts, which is enough energy to power 45,000 typical Florida homes, according to Frank Gaffney, chief operating officer of the Florida Municipal Power Agency, which is coordinating the effort. Each solar field is designed to generate 74.5 megawatts.

Clint Bullock, general manager and chief executive officer of the Orlando Utilities Commission, which is the lead utility on the project, said, with the agreement now in place, “Today, you made a difference. Today, you did something special. Today, you did something new.”

Bullock said this is a “cutting-edge” opportunity for OUC, which is taking about 108.5 megawatts of the 223.5 megawatts.

The 12 municipal utilities agreed on a 20-year power purchase agreement with NextGen, with two optional five-year extensions.

After an estimated 18-month permitting process, construction is expected to begin in early 2020, and the project should be operational by June 30, 2020.

Valle said at the peak of construction, the project will be responsible for 600 construction jobs, with about 200 at each site.

“We are working hard to lower the cost of solar power, so that we can provide emissions-free electricity for customers and add to our already low emissions generation portfolio,” said Jacob Williams, general manager and chief executive officer of the Orlando-based Florida Municipal Power Agency, a wholesale power agency owned by the municipal electric utilities. “Building a large project, like this, helps make solar more cost-effective.”

According to agency officials, with 12 cities working together, they can collectively build larger, more efficient solar installations.

The utilities will be able to continue to keep electricity rates affordable because the cost of solar energy from this project is competitive with other forms of power generation.

There is no upfront cost to the cities for participating. They will pay for power when it is produced.

The power output from this project will be equal to 37,250 average-size rooftop solar systems.

In addition, the ground-mounted solar panels for this project will be installed with a computer-controlled tracking system to follow the sun daily as it moves from east to west, maximizing power output.

The cost of solar energy from this project is about one-third the cost of a typical private, rooftop system.

During the announcement in Cocoa, representatives from Florida Municipal Power Agency, NextEra and the 12 municipal electric utilities took part in a ceremonial signing of the project agreement and inscribed their names on a solar panel.

In March, FPL started operating its $116 million solar energy complex in unincorporated Brevard County, south of Barefoot Bay.

The Barefoot Bay Solar Energy Center, south of Micco Road, generates 74.5 megawatts of power, which is enough energy to power about 15,000 homes.

Dave Berman is government editor at FLORIDA TODAY.


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