Florida Gives Green Light to Largest Solar Power Plant in U.S.

  • Published on July 17th, 2008

The Florida Public Service Commission has “unanimously and enthusiastically” approved a plan to build America’s largest commercial solar-power plant in the state. The committee also gave the green light to a further two facilities, due to go on-line in 2009.

Florida Power & Light have selected SunPower to construct the three solar-power plants in the center of the state. The largest, a 75-megawatt plant in Martin County on the East Coast, will be connected to a natural gas plant. Another 25-megawatt plant in DeSoto County will be the largest photovoltaic facility in the country, while a third, 10-megawatt photovoltaic facility is to be housed at the Kennedy Space Center.

Speaking about the project, Howard Wenger, SunPower’s Senior Vice President, Global Business Units said, “These agreements confirm the growing trend in the U.S. to build solar power plants at a scale rivalling those in market-leading countries such as Germany and Spain.”

The Florida decision follows a raft of recent political moves to boost the development of solar and other renewable energy sources in the U.S. Last week, Pennsylvania launched a Bill establishing a $650 million energy fund to support the sector. Earlier in the month, the U.S. Senate introduced the 10 Million Solar Roofs Act of 2008, while the end of June saw House Democrats introduce a national feed-in tariff for renewable energy projects.

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Image Credit – Schwarzerkater on Flickr via a Creative Commons License

About the Author

is a writer and freelance journalist specialising in sustainability and green issues. He lives in Cardiff, Wales.


  • This is great news, but why in Florida? I pretty sure Florida state was the state that always hit by hurricanes.

    What good does of solar power plant and the next year it be destroy be hurricanes.

    Maybe there is more to it.

  • Does anyone have the list of Power Plants that should be replaced in the future?

    Thanks I hope that this is considered in the massive lists of projects that Obama is rolling into his lists of construction projects.

    I was a Project / Budget Engineer and when additional money came up I knew which project's were 100% engineered and had most of their permits. Could bring them in and order material with a 4 week turnaround – shovel/backhoe in the ground 5-6 weeks.

  • Some readers are concerned if hurricane will damage the panels – that probably is not very likely.

    The panels are very well constructed and will be mounted low to the ground – and they are individual panels, not a big sheet of panel. So each panel needs to support its own wind load. I think they will hold up rather well.

    In terms of cost, it is more expensive than coal, natural gas, nuclear. No doubt about it. But if you want to increase our power supply capacity, there's no cheaper/faster way to do it.

    My estimate of time to build a power plant:

    Solar – 1-2 years

    Wind – sorry, we don't have steady wind in FL

    Natural Gas – 5-7 years

    Coal – 7 – 12 years

    Nuclear – forget it.

    We can conserve all we can, but the state will consume more power over time. We need a solution and Solar is part of it.

  • The US has the technology to be the world leader. If they had feed in tariffs like in Germany the industry would explode. You have everything there. Money, sun and the know how. You just need to use it properly.

  • You're all correct. Photovoltaic is extremely expensive, with an 80 year 'break-even'. Those folks who promote it are simply relying on the politicians' lack of math skills, and corruptibility. They are giving away our tax dollars for a negative energy effect. Those solar panels will never break even.

    On the other hand, thermal solar can be cost effective. But the surprise is that those big concentrating collector farms in California can only attract investors because of the federal and state tax rebates. They don't make money if they have to compete in the real world.

    Low temperature solar thermal is extremely cost effective. But absolutely no one is using it other than one small development company in Miami. They estimate that they will produce solar thermal electricity for $0.02 per kilowatt hour, with no tax dollars or government grants.

    Since the major cost of solar energy is associated with the cost and maintenance of the collectors, low temperature solar collector can cost one cent per kilowatt hour. The other penny covers the cost of the low temperature power plant over its' considerably long life-time.

    See 'matter and energy dot com (no spaces).

  • Heres and idea, mount windmill to every power line tower in the country then pump the power from the widndmills right in to the grid, and the miles of land from tower to tower can support solar panels and that juice can be added to the grid. The idea here is to make the grid into ulteritive energy soures.

  • It's great news but it's simply not enough.

    The largest plant was said to be only 75 megawatts. To place it in comparison, a regular-size coal power plant creates around 700-1000 megawatts. A nuclear power plant around 1000 megawatts.

    We would need quite a few of these new solar plants to assist the current energy infrastructure, though Rod Adams does point out another problem regarding the lack of space that can be used for these plants.

  • One thing that is missing from most discussions about solar power is a recognition of the massive quantities of land needed for the collectors. Florida has lots of sunshine, but it also has a lot of land that is environmentally fragile and not suitable for being carpeted with mirrors or panels.

    Another issue is the fact that solar developers have a rather unusual way of talking bragging about the capability of their system. They like to advertise the peak power capacity instead of helping people to understand the average power that can be produced. Using their figures is a bit like planning a trip by using a car's top speed as an input rather than real world considerations like traffic, fuel consumption, and speed limits.

    As the earth spins, the energy hitting any particular point on the globe changes based on the sine of the elevation angle. For much of the 24 hour clock, there is no energy at all. Even when the sun rises, and reaches a 30% elevation in mid morning, the energy is only 50% of the peak.

    At noon on a clear day in mid summer in low latitudes is the only time that the power output of a solar system is actually equal to its nameplate, within hours, the power level drops dramatically. Tracking arrays can solve some of the problem – at a significant added cost – but certainly not all. Storage systems are proposed, but the added burden of storage adds space, large material requirements, pumps valves, and some amount of chemical or thermal hazard for the operator.

    Nope – solar power is no panacea. There is a good reason why hundreds of generations of very intelligent people have seen the sun rise and set every day and determined that they would use its energy when it was freely available for lighting and heat, but would also work to develop other energy sources like coal, oil, gas and uranium to fill in those frequent times when the sun disappeared or was too weak to help much.

  • Nice, welcome steps but I would agree with Da Man. You have to take into account hurricanes when you put in a lot of money into a Florida-based project.

    You don't want to move the solar plant when the hurricanes come, or do you?

  • Yea I was wondering why they would build solar panels in the path of hurricanes. However nuclear plants are far more durable…

    Just think, when we blot out the sun like in the Matrix, all these panels will be a waste.

  • Ok, let's see how this compares with other energy production in Florida. Florida has almost no hydroelectric, so it principally gets energy from Natural Gas, Coal, Nuclear, and miscellaneous sources (including 2/3 of the nation's petroleum coke and significant petroleum liquids). Specifically in 2004 (the last year for which I have data), 29% of the energy was produced from Coal, 36% from natural gas, and 15% from nuclear. Miscellaneous sources (where I guess solar will one day fit) were 21% of the total production.

    Now we see that the three plants listed above produce a total of 110 MW of electricity. How does that compare, for example, with the nuclear power plants in Florida? Well there are 5 units. One unit at Crystal River can produce 842 MW, the two units at St Lucie (near Stuart) can produce 1678 MW, and Turkey Point (south of Miami) produces 1386 MW. The St Lucie reactors together were 43% of the nuclear production or about 6% of the total energy production. And St Lucie will produce 15 times the total of the three solar plants. Thus, by my calculations the three solar plants together will produce 0.4% of the electrical needs of Florida.

    Also one of the main installations is at Kennedy Space center where it will use up most of its power.

    All of this insignificant or miniscule benefit but FPL customers see a 8% or higher rate hike.

    And when a hurricane comes by and wipes these panels away the PSC will ok another 11% rate hike to let FPL reccoup costs.

  • That's a good idea, making the solar panels able to be lowered below ground for protection, in case of severe storms, hurricanes, or tornados — or fires, Florida is plagued by drought-driven fires.

    My dad is 85 & a lifelong Repub., lives in Florida on West Coast. He admires Al Gore's work on Climate Change, & sure doesn't want to see the pristine BEACHfront in his City drenched in Oil from Offshore Oil Drilling!

    Only the flacks who front for the Oil, Natural gas, or Nuke special interests, are against Solar Power Energy anymore!

    The biggest embarrassment in Cable TV News is CNN's Glen Beck, whose clownish rants about Global Warming being a Hoax are hilariously transparent bullsh*t!

  • And what about hurricanes? How will they prevent against that? At least in California, they would only vibrate but most likely would not fall down. I think it is a waste unless they can make it to where the panels can lower below ground for protection.

  • It seems that the US is heading toward a greener energy sector in spite of the federal government, not because of it.

    I think that the claim that the US is heading toward parity with the greenest EU countries is somewhat inflated. Those states have government backing for their green energy production and a fierce approach to increasing efficiency and reducing carbon emissions, especially Germany.

    The populations these countries have also needs to be considered and the proportion of the total energy use provided by renewables. By these standards I gfear the US is still miles behind and will be for some time.

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