Even a big water authority does not want to wait 18 years to start saving money with solar power.

The Peace River Manasota Regional Water Authority listened to the newest option for solar power assist with water at last week’s meeting of its Board of Directors at the plant in DeSoto County. The board is made up of county commissioners also from Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties.

The newest plan is from another utility company, Florida Power & Light, which wants to offer solar club membership for commercial and industrial customers. Membership might save the authority an estimated $135,238 over 10 years, or about 3.5 percent off its electric bills, the authority’s system operations manager, Richard Anderson, told commissioners. Payback starts at about five years.

“This is a very good payback period for solar,” said Anderson.

Water rates in Charlotte and DeSoto counties are at the top of the scale compared to other municipal utilities in the region, according to a ranking by Public Resources Management Group Inc. Sarasota and Manatee have much lower rates.

Anderson told the Sun that participation would only save the average user 5 cents on a monthly bill, but he emphasized the environmental value of participating.

“Any opportunity to help keep water rates low while preserving our environment is worth consideration,” he said.

To get a bigger bang from solar seems to take a lot more money and a lot more time. Or it takes more interest from FPL.

Last year, the authority staff proposed leasing some 900 acres to FPL for it to generate 75 megawatts of power. The water authority would make its money leasing the land. It turns out FPL is not interested in doing that, Anderson said.

Authority staff also presented options where the authority would build its own solar. To generate all the power requirements for the water authority would cost $18 million, with a pay back in 18 years.

After seeing the cost and time requirements for building their own solar, the board had earlier advised authority staff to pass on a previous set of solar options.

“Your direction in December was to put solar on the back burner, but to continue to monitor it,” Anderson said.

FPL is currently working on a goal of installing 30 million solar panels by 2030 on land it owns, for example, at Babcock Ranch in eastern Charlotte County. FPL has installed so much solar that it has moved Florida from the back of the pack to near the head of the line in solar production.

FPL’s new subscription plan is currently being reviewed by the state Public Service Commission, Anderson said.

“It’s not a done deal yet,” he said, although the authority has put its name in to participate. If approved by the state regulators, it could begin in about a year.

Called Solar Together, the program would not require any investment in equipment. It does require an annual membership fee, however, estimated currently at more than $750,000. That fee has to be approved by the state.

In exchange for joining the solar club, the authority would get a reduction in the price it pays for power, which is one of its biggest bills, said Sarasota Commissioner Alan Maio.

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