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Florida Power & Light’s sunny future, major solar expansion on track

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It’s a sunny future for Florida Power & Light Co., as construction is now well underway on all eight of the utility’s planned solar power plants.

New 74.5-megawatt solar power plants, with 2.5 million panels offering a joint capacity of 600 MW, are on track for completion by early 2018, making it one of the largest solar expansions ever in the eastern U.S.

Once completed, the plants will contribute enough low-emissions energy to the FPL grid to power nearly 120,000 homes.

Officials with FPL, now the largest generator of solar energy in Florida, say construction of the plants will be cost effective — resulting in net savings for FPL customers over and above construction costs. The eight new plants are expected to generate millions of dollars in net lifetime savings to customers.

“FPL is living proof that it’s possible to generate cleaner energy and deliver outstanding service while keeping customers’ electric bills among the lowest in the nation,” said FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy. “We are proud to be advancing affordable, clean energy infrastructure in Florida in close partnership with respected environmental advocates, community leaders and our customers. Together, we are bringing the benefits of solar energy to more Floridians faster and more affordably than ever before.”

Today, about 500 people are working on construction across the eight solar sites, a number expected to grow to 1,500 during peak activity this summer.

While some plants are in various stages of early development, from ground-clearing work to infrastructure, others are further along. For example, at the Horizon Solar Energy Center, which spans both Alachua and Putnam counties, FPL workers are now installing solar panels.

“FPL continues to transform the energy landscape of the state and nation, and we are honored that North Florida is playing an important role,” said Brian Bergen, vice president of economic development for the Putman County Chamber of Commerce. “These new solar power plants are about more than just affordable, clean energy. They’re also delivering economic benefits right here, right now.”

Four of the eight FPL plants are scheduled to be online by the end of 2017: Horizon Solar Energy Center in Alachua and Putnam counties; Coral Farms Solar Energy Center in Putnam County; Indian River Solar Energy Center in Indian River County and the Wildflower Solar Energy Center in DeSoto County.

Facilities scheduled for completion by March 1, 2018, include Barefoot Bay Solar Energy Center in Brevard County; Blue Cypress Solar Energy Center in Indian River County; Hammock Solar Energy Center in Hendry County and the Loggerhead Solar Energy Center in St. Lucie County.

As the “Sunshine State,” Florida ranks ninth in the nation for solar resources — the strength of the sun’s rays — making it a beautiful place for solar. As one of the nation’s cleanest electric utilities, FPL projects solar will outpace fossil fuels such as coal and oil combined as a percentage of the company’s energy mix by 2020.

From 2017 through 2023, FPL plans to add nearly 2,100 new megawatts of solar, including the approximately 600 megawatts now under construction.

FPL — a subsidiary of the Juno Beach-based NextEra Energy — is the state’s largest rate-regulated electric utility, serving more than 4.8 million customers across Florida, the third-largest customer base in the United States.

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Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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