BARTOW — By this time next year, 18 percent of the power consumed by Bartow residents could be produced by solar power, up from six percent currently.
“It may not sound like a big number, but it's actually a huge number,” Bartow City Manager George Long said. “We rank up there on the top with the big boys. This project is really a big deal.”
In Orange County on the morning of Monday, Nov. 18, Long and others broke ground on one of the largest municipal solar projects in the United States according to the Florida Municipal Power Agency, an agency formed in 1978 and owned by a group of Floridian cities that sell power to their residents.
The Florida Municipal Solar Project is a partnership between Bartow, 11 other cities, the FMPA and Florida Renewable Partners, LLC.
Over the course of three phases, a total of approximately 900,000 solar panels will be installed at two sites in Osceola County and at one site in Orange County.
“That’s enough solar panels to fill 900 football fields or stretch from Jacksonville Beach to Key West two and a half times,” according to a FMPA press release.
The project will generate 223.5 megawatts of zero-emissions energy — or enough electricity to power 45,000 typical Florida homes.
Bartow Electric and the other participating municipal electric utilities will purchase power from the project.
“There are no up-front costs for the participating municipal electric utilities and Bartow Electric will only pay for the power it purchases,” Long said.
Bartow is contracted to purchase 13 megawatts of solar energy, which will become available next year, Long said during a Bartow City Commission meeting Nov. 18.
“Solar is a better price than traditional energy generation, so it saves residents money,” Long said.
Back in 2010, the price of electricity in Bartow was one of the highest in the state and the Bartow City Commission set a goal of reducing that cost to residents. For the past two years, the price of electricity in Bartow has been among one of the lowest in the state with expectations that the cost could be even lower next year.
Bartow residents currently get 7.2 megawatts of solar energy from the city’s first foray into purchasing solar energy. Early last year, the city broke ground on a 40-acre solar farm east of Bartow, just north of State Road 60. The property is owned by the city and city staff purchase solar energy from NovaSol Energy, whose staff invested in the solar panels.
The 12 local utilities that will purchase power from the municipal project include: Alachua, Bartow, Beaches Energy Services (Jacksonville Beach), Fort Pierce Utilities Authority, Homestead, Keys Energy Services (Key West), Kissimmee Utility Authority, Lake Worth Beach, Ocala, Orlando Utilities Commission, Wauchula and Winter Park.
“We are pleased to start construction on a project of this size, which will enable us to provide affordable, emissions-free solar power to our customers,” said FMPA’s Jacob Williams, general manager and CEO of the Orlando-based wholesale power agency. “By working together, the cities can build a larger, more efficient facility to help make solar energy cost effective.”
When complete, the power output from this project will be equal to 37,250 average-size rooftop solar systems. To enhance efficiency, the ground-mounted solar panels will be installed with a computer-controlled tracking system that moves the panel to track the sun as it travels from east to west, maximizing power output.
The cost of solar energy from this project is about one-third the cost of electricity from a typical private, rooftop system, Williams said.