Florida Power & Light Co. is doubling the number of new universal solar power plants it plans to add by early 2018, FPL president and CEO Eric Silagy said Monday.
Juno Beach-based FPL previously announced it would construct four new 74.5 megawatt plants this year. Now that is doubling to eight solar photovoltaic plants that will have a total of more than 2.5 million solar panels. Each one will produce enough electricity to power 15,000 homes.
To view video of FPL’s solar plants, click here.
“We have been working hard to drive down the costs of adding solar so we can deliver even more zero-emissions energy to all of our customers,” Silagy said.
“Universal” solar refers to the fact that the plants produce power that goes into the grid to the benefit of all, Silagy said.
The plants will be located at sites across Florida, including three previously announced locations in Alachua, Putnam and DeSoto counties. Sites for five of the plants have not been revealed yet, but each takes up about 700 acres and land costs are a major factor, Silagy said.
“Land costs is something we are very focused on. You want to have contiguous space. We don’t want to disturb the environment any more than we need do,” Silagy said.
Silagy, who was returning Monday from an event at the new solar plant completed in December in the Manatee County town of Parrish, said that land was formerly cattle pasture.
While the cows aren’t there any more, Silagy said herds of sheep are put to work eating the grass that grows under the solar panels, which saves on mowing costs.
“We have herds of sheep all over the place. We have sheep herders that move them around,” Silagy said.
Construction on the new plants is expected to begin this spring. FPL solar plants that came online in December in Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties cost about $130 million each, and Silagy said he expects the new plants to be built for 25 to 30 percent less than that.
Costs have come down for the panels, and like anything else, buying in bulk helps.
“When you order a million panels, the first thing that happens is everyone returns your phone calls, and they work really hard to earn your business,” Silagy said.
FPL’s plant built in 2009 in DeSoto County has 90,000 panels and produces 25 megawatts of power and cost $100 million to build.
In November the Florida Public Service Commission approved a settlement agreement allowing an $811 million rate hike for FPL which began in January.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, FPL can undertake the construction of 300 megawatts of solar photovoltaic generation each year as long as it is cost-effective. FPL can charge customers for the solar installations.
The PSC must approve the costs and the company has to show there will be no net cost to customers after savings from fuel and other generation-related expenses. FPL uses natural gas, a fossil fuel, to generate more than 70 percent of the electricity it produces.
Silagy said that over the life of the solar plants, the fuel savings will be greater than what the solar plants cost to build.
The cost of the plants completed in 2016 is included in customers’ base rates. Customers will not experience any bill increases when the eight planned plants come into service, Silagy said.
FPL currently operates more than 335 megawatts of solar generating capacity, enough to power 60,000 homes.