Sun Newspapers


FPL Centralized Solar Themal


Charlotte Sun

June 24, 2008


New solar plant welcome addition to our region


OUR POSITION: The new 25-megawatt DeSoto County solar plant will boost clean energy production while aiding the local economy.

Sun we've got for free. Converting it into electricity to keep our homes cool is another thing.

The state Public Service Commission last week approved a bid by Florida Power & Light to charge up-front costs to customers for construction of three solar plants, the largest one in DeSoto County. The shift to solar could add $9 a month to the "typical" custome r's bill sometime in the near future, FP&L said. It's an added bit of pain to consumers struggling with rising costs of gas and food, but it's money spent in the right direction.


The decision is great news for DeSoto County, good for the state and for the environment.

For rural DeSoto, it will bring a welcome economic boost in what could become a showpiece of 21st century alternative energy production. FP&L plans to build a 25-megawatt photovoltaic plant at a 1,525-acre site FP&L owns east of U.S. 17 roughly a mile south of the Hardee County line. This will be the world's largest plant strictly using power generated by photovoltaic cells, which are panels that capture sunlight's energy and convert it into electrical energy stored in batteries.


Given ideal conditions (Florida can, in fact, be cloudy at times), the solar plant could provide electricity to 4,500 homes.


The FP&L plant also quickly will become one of the county's largest property taxpayers, boosting the county's tax base. Construction and operation will provide jobs fo r locals and bring new tax-paying residents to the area. It's a clear win for the county.


Increased production of solar energy also is an important component of Florida's electrical energy mix, one that should become more important as the cost of traditional energy sources continue to rise.


The DeSoto plant is one of three planned by FP&L for the state. The company intends to build a 75-megawatt solar thermal plant in Martin County and a 10-megawatt photovoltaic plant at the Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County. The solar plants will begin to augment the state's heavy reliance on gas-fired production, which stands now at 50 percent.

FP&L's solar plants -- with a price tag of $688 million -- will only begin to fill the state's energy needs in coming years. FP&L notes conservation has already paid off: The mythical "typical" customers today use roughly 30 percent less electricity per household compared to 20 years ago.


And the Public Service Commission's green light on the solar plants was overshadowed by its approval of Progress Energy's proposed $17 billion nuclear plant in Levy C ounty. That could generate 2,200 megawatts, which would supply 1.3 million homes.

But the solar power field is an important step forward in developing clean energy sources for Florida's future. The additional investment should help drive technological innovation, which could bring production prices down someday. It may also drive a new green industry.

With the world's largest solar plant so close to home, that industry could further add to the region's economy.