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Duke to build solar farm next year

The blossoming of solar energy in Florida will sprout in Gulf County next year.

At Tuesday morning’s county commission, Danny Collins, government and community relations manager for Duke Energy Florida, shared the good news that the power company had struck a deal to construct a solar energy facility off County Road 386, on the western edge of the county, between Overstreet and Wewahitchka.

The DeBary Solar Power Plant in Volusia County began serving customers on May 14, generating 74.5 megawatts with 300,000 panels.

The acreage is enormous that Duke is securing from Deseret Cattle and Timber, between 550 and 600 acres, and it’s on this land, adjacent to a transmission line from Port St. Joe to Callaway, that 75 megawatts of power will be generated by the end of 2021,

If it’s like three other plants that Duke has put up in the past couple years, such as The Archer Solar Power Plant on 630 acres in Alachua County, the facility will consist of approximately 220,000 single-axis tracking solar panels, capable of producing enough electricity to power approximately 23,000 homes at peak production annually.

Once completed, the estimated cost will be 32 cents per 1,000 kWh for a typical residential customer, on the low end compared to the Duette plant in Manatee County, which has an estimated cost of 42 cents for that typical customer.

“We’re hoping to have everything filed with you guys by the end of the year, and start construction in first quarter 2021,” Collins said. “It takes nine or 10 months; we anticipate completion in 2021.

“We haven’t fully designed it yet,” he said. “It’s part of a suite of projects that will total 750 megawatts throughout the state of Florida. This will be in that portfolio of projects.”

Commissioner Ward McDaniel levied the praise shared by his colleagues.

“This will be great for Gulf County; I think you picked a great landowner,” he said, noting that the site on 386 “is set back off of there.

“This is good for Gulf County it surely is,” McDaniel said.

Gulf County Administrator Michael Hammond stressed that Duke’s mammoth investment will bring tax dollars to the county, and a flood of jobs during the construction phase.

The solar farm will generate 75 megawatts of energy, "which basically would more than provide all of the electricity we use, it’s a number bigger than we use in Gulf County,” he said. “This is many times more than the entire county uses in a year. We will be contributing to the grid, not taking away from the grid.

“We’re excited because it creates jobs. More of these are construction jobs but there will be a few residual jobs left. A lot of jobs with the building of this, not a lot of jobs after the fact,” Hammond said.

“Diversifying our energy base is a good thing,” he said. “That is a huge chunk of tax base for the county and school board, going forward long term."

During construction, a typical Duke solar project creates at least 200 temporary jobs. All of the company’s recent solar power plants will be owned, operated and maintained by Duke Energy Florida.

Collins said Duke has yet to select a contractor. “We’re working with CareerSource to make sure we’re having job fairs locally,” he said.

The three most recent solar power plants “will complete Duke Energy Florida’s commitment to customers to provide 700 megawatts of clean, green energy by 2022," said Catherine Stempien, Duke Energy Florida state president.

“Once operational, our solar power plants will eliminate nearly three billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions each year,” she said. “The sun shines bright here in Florida, and we are committed to making more solar investments in the years to come."

Duke Energy Florida currently has more than 500 megawatts of solar generation under construction or in operation. The company is investing an estimated $1 billion to construct or acquire a total of 700 megawatts of solar power facilities from 2018 through 2022 in Florida and is planning to reach a total of almost 1,700 megawatts of solar generation over the next 10 years.