A Sunny Outlook For Tallahassee's Proposed Solar Power Plant

Mar 24, 2016

The future is bright for a proposed solar power plant in the capital of the Sunshine State.

Credit Minoru Karamatsu/ flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/pandx1/8552393014/

The City of Tallahassee is poised to sign off on a 20 megawatt solar farm, to be located on 100 acres near the airport. The plant would power about 3400 homes, the equivalent of 6,000 roof top panels. This “community solar” program could provide renewable energy access for those who can’t install their own roof-top panels. Newly minted City Manager Rick Fernandez counts himself among that group.

“And I have these huge oak trees on the south side of my house, and there’s no way I could put panels on my house. Even if I could afford it or wanted to invest in it, physically I can’t unless I cut down those oak trees. And I’m not about to do that. This way you can participate. It’s more economical. And the community has that asset,” he said.

A private company would own and operate the plant, and the city would buy the solar output, sheltering taxpayers from any start-up costs or liabilities. Fernandez hopes to offer solar subscriptions to Tallahassee’s utilities customers.

“I think that’s what we’ll do, we’ll provide some subscriptions so you can decide how much you want. So you could buy half your electricity, or do we offer it in blocks of say 500 kilowatt hours, that’s about the average that a person uses,” he said.

With cheaper and more efficient solar cells coming down the pike, the cost of renewable energy continues to drop. David Byrne is the manager of the city’s electric system planning, and he says customers won’t have to pay extra for solar.

“It also is probably about the same as the cost of energy in our current energy costs in our electric system. So our anticipation is that building this project, while we are adding clean solar energy to our energy supply here, it won’t be affecting the rates that our customers have to pay,” he said.

Byrne says the program will help power Tallahassee sustainably in a climate-conscious future.             

“I think you’re gonna see that this becomes a common action that a lot of electric utilities all over the state, and nationwide are going to start to be taking. And I think it’s just kind of the beginning of significant change in the way that we do our business,” he said.

City officials are putting final touches on the contract. And while the project is not a done deal yet, Fernandez says the outlook is sunny.

“So we have not signed the contract, but we’re on the verge of it. There are no issues outstanding that I know of. So we should have that signed within weeks rather than months,” he said.

If all goes the well, the plant should be up and running by 2017.