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Municipal utilities expand solar operations in Florida in groundbreaking deal

Florida Municipal Solar Project brings renewable energy to 12 utility companies

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(Bill Alberter/CNN)

COCOA, Fla. – 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 facilities that will be built at sites Orange and Osceola counties, reports News 6 partner Florida Today.

NextEra Florida Renewables, 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 project 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 onluy a partnership in bringing all these utilities together so they can purchase something at economies of scale, but it engages all the communities. This is 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."

About 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 900 football fields, and will be  filled with solar panels.

The project will generate total electricity output will be 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 site 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."

The utilities have a 20-year purchase agreement with NextGen Energy.

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.

"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. “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 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.