FPL expanding solar in Sunshine State

Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) has reported advanced progress in its plans three new large-scale solar energy centers.

The three new plants are being designed for roughly 74 MW of capacity. Along with several community-based, small-scale solar arrays and commercial-scale solar research installations that FPL is building, they will combine for a total of more than 225 MW of new solar capacity by the end of next year, effectively tripling the company’s solar capacity, which currently totals approximately 110 MW.

Development work and engineering for the installations are well underway in Charlotte, DeSoto and Manatee counties, the company said in a presentation at the Florida Public Service Commission’s (PSC) recent annual Ten-Year Site Plan workshop. Projected for completion by the end of 2016, the three plants will triple FPL’s current solar capacity “with no net cost to customers over the plants’ operating lifetimes,” the company stressed.

"FPL has been working to advance solar affordably in Florida for more than a decade," Pamela Rauch, FPL’s vice president of development and external affairs, told the PSC. "Large-scale solar is by far the most economical way to advance solar energy for the benefit of all of our customers."

FPL is building the FPL Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center in Charlotte County; the FPL Citrus Solar Energy Center in DeSoto County; and the FPL Manatee Solar Energy Center in Manatee County.

The utility company said solar power was generally not yet cost-effective in its service area due in part to its higher costs relative to the company’s efficient system and low electric rates. It added, however that it had been working to find ways to advance solar cost-effectively and that the three project sites offered “unique built-in advantages, such as the existence of sufficient transmission and substation infrastructure. These advantages, combined with support from the local communities, are helping reduce the overall cost of construction and enable the company to advance solar cost-effectively.”

FPL has selected engineering, procurement and construction firm Black & Veatch to design and build the plants. With engineering work well underway, FPL expects to officially break ground later this year. Construction work is expected to take approximately one year to complete.

The company’s current solar portfolio includes the 25 MW FPL DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center; the 10 MW FPL Space Coast Next Generation Solar Energy Center near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center; and 75 MW at the FPL Martin Clean Energy Center, a hybrid solar/natural gas plant.

Citing data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), FPL said it was focusing on large-scale solar due to its cost-effectiveness, stressing that “more than 98% of Florida’s solar potential is in large-scale solar, compared with less than 2% for rooftop installations.”

FPL estimates that large-scale solar in Florida produces about 2.5 times more solar energy per dollar invested than small-scale systems. In addition to capitalizing on economies-of-scale, FPL has selected sites with prior permitting and/or site development that offer close proximity to existing transmission infrastructure.