FPL opens new solar power plant in Columbia County

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A Florida utility has an ambitious goal of making the state a world leader in solar power, and a new solar power plant in Columbia County is part of that goal.

The new 935-acre FP&L Sunshine Gateway solar power center was built in nine months, went into service on January 31, and officially opened Monday morning in a ceremony attended by FP&L CEO Eric Silagy.

Construction of the plant cost around $ 100 million and created 200 jobs in the Suwannee Valley area. The location is highly visible to travelers, nestled between I-10 and I-75.

“They are built cost-effectively, which means there is no net cost to our customers,” said Stephen Heiman, spokesperson for FP&L. “The savings in fuel and other production-related expenses will not only pay off the initial investment to build this site, but will generate millions of dollars in savings in the long run.”

Florida Power & Light has set a goal of installing 30 million solar panels statewide by 2030, increasing the share of solar power by 2% in FP & L’s total energy portfolio from 20 to 25 %.

Heiman said the company’s focus is on technological improvements in solar development.

“We are seeing that battery technology is becoming more affordable and is increasingly becoming an asset for the solar power plant,” Heiman said. “So being able to store more of this energy for later use is really the next step in moving this clean energy system forward.”

Julie Wraithmell, Executive Director of Audobon Florida, was also present at the celebration. Wraithmell said the organization has partnered with FP&L to bring the environment to factories like Sunshine Gateway.

“There will be portions of the area, strips, fallow land that will be planted with native plants,” Wraithmell said. “So there will be ideal flowering plants for pollinators, seed carriers, they also attract insects for birds and other animals that depend on them for their food.”

Sunshine Gateway houses approximately 340,000 solar panels, generating 74.5 megawatts of energy.

Heiman said the plant generates enough energy to power about 15,000 homes, although the energy is transferred to the grid, which powers homes in the state through various energy sources. The bulk of FP & L’s energy portfolio is made up of natural gas.


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