FPL Developing More Solar, Set to Bring Big Gas Plant Online

Florida Power & Light (FPL) on March 4 announced plans to build four new solar power plants this year, with each expected to come online in early 2020. The company has rapidly expanded its solar power portfolio in recent years; the four new plants will join 18 others already operating in the state.

FPL also is just weeks away from bringing online a 1,600-MW natural gas-fired plant west of Vero Beach. That plant is one of several new gas plants the utility has either recently brought online or is developing.

The new solar plants, each with generation capacity of 74.5 MW, include the Okeechobee Solar Energy Center in Okeechobee County; the Hibiscus Solar Energy Center in Palm Beach County; the Echo River Solar Energy Center in Suwannee County; and the Southfork Solar Energy Center in Manatee County.

“The construction of four additional solar energy centers is just the latest demonstration of our laser focus on advancing solar energy for all of our customers, while keeping their bills lower than 90% of the country,” Eric Silagy, FPL president and CEO, said in a news release. “These solar plants are part of our commitment to installing 30 million more solar panels by 2030 across more than 100 new solar sites, resulting in the creation of thousands of jobs here in our state.”

A recent report from The Solar Foundation said Florida ranks behind only California in the number of jobs related to the solar power industry. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity expects solar jobs will grow by more than 60% through 2026.

The new solar plant in Okeechobee County will join FPL’s Okeechobee Clean Energy Center, a 1,600-MW natural gas-fired facility that was approved by state regulators in early 2016. The plant is located about 24 miles west of Vero Beach and is expected to come online in the next month. The gas plant is configured as a 3-3-1, with three combustion turbines attached to three heat recovery steam generators (HRSGs), which then send steam to one steam turbine generator.

The combustion turbines are GE 7HA.02 models, each with evaporative cooling and wet compression for enhanced output. The steam turbine generator is a tandem compound four-flow condensing turbine, rated at about 575 MW. The HRSGs are multi-pressure with reheat and include selective catalytic reduction for NOxcontrol. FPL touts the gas plant as the cleanest of its type.

“FPL’s investments in clean power generation continue to be a game-changer for our county,” Jeff Sumner, president of Sumner Engineering & Consulting and chairman of the Economic Council of Okeechobee County, said in a statement. “Investments like these provide a vital injection of economic activity to our area and help support our local community for years to come.”

The Hibiscus Solar Energy Center is in Palm Beach County, home to both FPL’s headquarters and the offices of its parent company, NextEra Energy.

“We’re fortunate to have a world leader in renewable energy located right here in Palm Beach County,” said Kelly Smallridge, president and CEO, Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, in a statement. “FPL’s ability to deliver some of the cleanest and most affordable power in the country is a major competitive advantage that helps us attract businesses to our area.”

The FPL solar plant in Suwannee County will be visible to drivers on Interstate 10 headed either west to Tallahassee or east to Jacksonville. “FPL’s solar investment is an ideal fit for our community as it supports the growth of clean tech and ecotourism, two industry sectors that provide for a diversified and sustainable regional economy,” Jimmy Norris, director, Suwannee County Economic Development, said in a statement. “And its location will help us advertise that Suwannee County is playing a role in Florida’s transition from the Sunshine State to the Solar State.”

The Southfork Solar Energy Center will be FPL’s second in Manatee County, joining the Manatee Solar Energy Center on the state’s Gulf Coast.

“It’s exciting to continue to be a part of what FPL’s solar expansion is doing for our state,” said Manatee County Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace in a statement. “We know firsthand the benefits a solar plant brings to our community and look forward to the additional economic and environmental benefits, including more green energy and jobs, another solar facility will bring to Manatee County.”

FPL’s 18 operating solar plants have combined generation capacity of about 1,250 MW.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).