City Breaks Ground On Community Solar Farm

May 30, 2017

Construction for Tallahassee’s first solar power plant is underway. Not everyone in Tallahassee can install their own rooftop solar panels, whether they want to or not. But Mayor Andrew Gillum says residents will soon have another option, because of the city’s new 20 megawatt community solar farm.

City officials at the ceremonial groundbreaking for a new community solar farm near Tallahassee' airport.
Credit Kate Payne via WFSU

“Whether you live in a home that you own, or whether you live in a house that is shaded, or whether you live in a house that has full sun view but you may not be able to afford to make the individual investment to put solar on your own roof, everyone gets to benefit and participate in this program,” Gillum said.

City officials and the solar contractor Origis broke ground on the plant Tuesday, in an open field near the airport. Construction just got started but interest in the program is already brewing. Kim Ross with Rethink Energy Florida says the project is larger than she could’ve hoped.

“We initially proposed half a megawatt. And so we’re already at twenty megawatts and we’re heading to sixty in a couple years. That’s just really exciting. But we did that through just educating the community and getting information out there and asking people if they were interested,” Ross said.

Rethink Energy Florida, the League of Women Voters and Sustainable Tallahassee collected the names of four hundred residents who are ready to join. Ross almost forgot to add herself to the list.

“Actually I was the very last person on the spreadsheet. Because I forgot to sign the card myself,” Ross said, laughing.

Solar subscriptions are first come, first served, and customers can opt to have twenty-five, fifty, or one hundred percent renewable electricity. Participants will lock in a fixed rate of 5 cents per kilowatt hour, for the next twenty years.

The cost is slightly higher than today’s 3.3 cent price tag for natural gas. That’s the city’s primary energy source, which also happens to be the cheapest it’s been in years. Utilities planner David Byrne says renewable energy makes for a more stable investment.

“As you know, when energy is generated by fuels like natural gas and oil, it’s based on what the cost of those fuels is in the marketplace,” Byrne said. “For some customers that’s very exciting because they’ll know what their price is going to be for a long time.”

The twenty kilowatt farm is slated to be up and running in the fall, when it will power the equivalent of 3,400 homes. The city is already planning a second solar field, which will be twice as big as the first.