Referring to each 74.5-megawatt solar plant as “universal” solar, FPL recently announced that it would add four such plants to its power-generation portfolio by the end of 2017 and four more by March 2018. Last week, FPL identified them by name, county, and acreage when it added the projects to its Solar Energy Centers webpage.
FPL will add these eight plants to its most recent three solar facilities, which also each have a nameplate capacity of 74.5 megawatts.
When talking about how big a solar farm is, capacity is often confused with size. For example, the Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center and the planned Horizon Solar Energy Center both have nameplate capacities of 74.5 megawatts, but Babcock occupies 440 acres, while Horizon is planned to occupy 1,315 acres. That’s a range of 5.9 acres per megawatt of capacity to 17.65 acres per megawatt of capacity! A ratio of 6.5 acres per megawatt is fairly common. Land constraints, such as wetlands, for example, are typically the driving force behind increased acreage-per-megawatt of nameplate capacity.
Why are they all 74.5 megawatts, you ask? By designing each plant with a nameplate capacity of less than seventy-five megawatts, the plants are not subject to the requirements of Florida’s Electrical Power Plant Siting Act. Fla. Stat. §§ 403.503(14) (2016) (setting a seventy-five-megawatt floor); see also Fla. Stat § 403.519(3); Fla. Admin. Code R. 25-22.082 (2016) (establishing a competitive bidding process before the Florida Public Service Commission to determine the “most cost-effective alternative available”).
This law, originally passed in 1973, did not contemplate solar applications such as these, which can be more feasibly scaled to fit beneath the seventy-five-megawatt floor than conventional power plants. By avoiding the competitive bidding process, some have questioned whether these eight solar farms will be built at a truly market cost to ratepayers, even though the focus of FPL’s roll-out of these facilities emphasizes the tremendous economies of scale that these projects will achieve. According to the Solar Energy Centers webpage, “[u]niversal solar is the fastest and most cost-effective way to bring more solar to more Floridians. . . . FPL’s solar plants are cost-effective, resulting in millions of dollars in net savings to FPL customers over their operational lifetime.”
FPL’s latest solar roll-out has been generally well-received and rightly so. Advocates appear to maintain that, relative to Florida’s long overdue adoption of solar’s economic and environmental benefits, this is a big step forward, while at the same time recognizing that, in absolute terms, Florida has a long way yet to go before beginning to truly realize the state’s potential to benefit from solar energy.
Tim Hughes is an attorney in the Solar Industry Practice Group at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP, where he monitors regulatory developments and market trends and provides experienced counsel and representation in the development, financing, and construction of solar power systems.