by Janet Ware
Updated 4 yearss ago
Population growth has slowed this year in Florida, but not for long. “Once the country recovers from the [current] economic slowdown,” says Vincent M. Dolan, president and CEO of Progress Energy Florida, “forecasts call for a 2-3% increase per year in customer growth.”
“Heating water directly from the sun makes sense,” says Robert Reedy, director of the Florida Energy Center’s solar energy division.? [Photo: Nicholas Waters]
In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2030, Florida will add another 12 million to its population, making it the nation’s 3rd most populous state.
To prepare for the influx, Progress Energy and the other utilities that serve Florida’s 67 counties are already investing in efficiency, reliability and enhanced energy production. And along with a host of energy innovators large and small, they’re also seeking cleaner ways to generate power.
With more than $2 billion invested in solar power statewide to date, Florida is on track to become the nation’s 2nd largest producer of solar energy, right behind California.
Among those preparing for the new energy era is Palm Beach Gardens developer Syd Kitson, whose company, Kitson & Partners, has drawn up plans for a $2-billion “solar city” — the world’s first city to be powered solely by the sun — at Babcock Ranch, a 17,000-acre site situated north of Fort Myers that is surrounded by a 73,000-acre nature preserve.
The development will consist of 6 million square feet of retail, commercial, office, civic and light industrial space; all commercial buildings and homes will be certified as energy-efficient and constructed according to Florida Green Building Council standards. Solar arrays will feed power into the town’s integrated smart grid so that residents and businesses may monitor and control their energy consumption; kiosks for recharging electric cars also will be available.
Kitson is partnering with Juno Beach based-Florida Power & Light (FPL), the state’s largest investor-owned utility, to build the 75-megawatt solar generator that will provide the power.
“We have a blank sheet of paper,” says Kitson. “We want to create living laboratories for energy research, and we want to draw companies that want to be part of something that is really sustainable.”
Construction at Babcock Ranch is slated to begin in early 2010.
More Solar Power
In spring 2009, FPL began building a trio of solar energy plants in Florida:
» The DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in DeSoto County will provide 25 megawatts of photovoltaic solar capacity, making it the world’s largest photovoltaic solar facility.
» The Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Martin County will provide up to 75 megawatts of solar thermal capacity in a first-ever hybrid design connecting a solar facility to an existing fossil fuel plant.
» The Space Coast Next Generation Solar Energy Center at Kennedy Space Center will provide 10 megawatts of photovoltaic solar capacity.
At a total cost of $688 million, the three plants combined will provide enough emissions-free electricity to power 35,000 homes and businesses.
Elsewhere in Florida:
» Tampa Electric Company, principal subsidiary of TECO Energy Inc., plans to build a 25-megawatt solar facility in Polk County.
» Progress Energy Florida plans to offer incentives to utility customers who place solar photovoltaic arrays on the rooftops of their homes and businesses.
» Pensacola-based Gulf Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, offers an incentive plan to encourage customers to install solar thermal water heaters.
“One of the most interesting developments is that our municipal utilities in Florida have started to innovate,” says Jerry Karnas, director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Florida Climate Project and a member of the Governor’s Action Team on Energy and Climate Change, “and that is capturing the attention of the whole world.”
Among the most “groundbreaking” developments, Karnas suggests, is taking place in north central Florida where the Gainesville Regional Utility recently became the first municipal supplier in the United States to implement a “solar feed tariff.” Essentially, this means the utility will purchase the excess electricity produced by solar panels on the roofs of homes and businesses, then sell it back to the community.
Solar initiatives taking off:
This central Florida city is under contract with Beltsville, Md.-based Sun Edison to build an $80-million, 24-megawatt solar electric system.
The Southeast’s largest rooftop solar photovoltaic system — $7 million worth of solar panels atop the Orange County Convention Center — is expected to generate 1 million watts of power. No wonder the U.S. Department of Energy has named Orlando “a top 25 solar city.”
Solar Entrepreneurs at Work
The rise of solar power in Florida is good news for Florida entrepreneurs like Bill Johnson in Sarasota. Johnson’s company, Brilliant Harvest, is an energy “integrator,” aimed at helping clients — non-profits in particular — navigate the minefield of government regulations and maximize government energy initiatives to lower their power consumption.
Other Florida companies are gearing up to produce solar hardware:
» Advanced Solar Photonics in Lake Mary expects to hire 1,500 new workers in the next two years to manufacture solar panels.
» In Gainesville, entrepreneurs at Sestar, a local startup with help from researchers at the University of Florida, hopes to manufacture and market artificial turf laced with photovoltaic solar cells that produce electricity.
Miami Smart Grid
A proposed “Energy Smart Initiative,” which could put more than 1 million “smart meters” in Miami-Dade homes and businesses, would give power users more control over their electricity consumption. FPL, Cisco, General Electric and Silver Spring Networks have joined forces with the city of Miami for what could become the platform for an anticipated $700-million statewide smart power grid, and perhaps a model for the nation.
WIND — Pensacola-based Gulf Power is conducting wind studies at Navarre Beach in Santa Rosa County to determine the feasibility of wind-turbine electric power.
OCEAN CURRENTS — Researchers at Florida Atlantic University are gathering data in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Dania Beach in the hopes of harnessing the power of the Gulf Stream to generate clean energy.
BIOFUELS — Sugar producer Florida Crystals Corporation uses sugar cane waste to fuel its refinery in Okeelanta. Elsewhere in Florida, energy experts are using wood chips, citrus waste, algae and other natural materials to produce power. Gulf Power recently concluded a deal with Escambia County to make electricity at the Perdido Landfill northwest of Pensacola; the process uses the methane gas formed underneath the landfill to boil water and make the steam that drives an electricity-producing turbine. Gulf Power also buys electricity generated by an incinerator that burns garbage at the Bay County Landfill.
FPL, which already has nuclear facilities at Hutchinson Island near Fort Pierce and at Turkey Point on Biscayne Bay south of Miami, is moving ahead with plans to build two more nuclear plants at Turkey Point. Construction on Progress Energy’s proposed new nuclear facility in Levy County has been delayed pending further environmental impact review.
At present, 39% of Florida’s electric generating capacity comes from natural gas; however, that figure is expected to jump to 54% by 2017. Four main underground pipelines — Florida Gas Transmission, Gulfstream Pipeline, Southern Natural Gas Pipeline and Southern Pipeline — currently supply the necessary natural gas, and more are on the way:
- Florida Gas Transmission’s $2.45-million project to add 483.2 miles of pipe through Mississippi, Alabama and Florida is in the permitting stage, says John Barnett, spokesperson for Panhandle Energy, which owns FGT. “We hope to begin construction the beginning of 2010 and have the project completed by 2011.”
- FPL has proposed to build its own pipeline. If all goes according to plan, the $1.5-billion project would run from Bradford County in Florida’s North Central region to Martin County in the Southeast, with two lateral lines that would connect to FPL’s Cape Canaveral Next Generation Clean Energy Center in Brevard County and Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy Center in Palm Beach County.
Plans to pipe in greater amounts of liquefied natural gas (LNG) are on hold. David Rogers, executive director of the Florida Natural Gas Association, explains that the “LNG projects have been moved back because natural gas prices have come down in recent months making LNG more expensive than piped natural gas.” The good news, he adds, is “that additional supplies of natural gas are coming in because of increased production, expansion of existing pipes and increased capacity.
Electric energy from TECO’s Bayside Power Station is fueled by natural gas.? [Photo: TECO]
A $1.3-billion clean-air project is also under way at Progress Energy’s Crystal River Energy Complex.
Boosting Infrastructure with Stimulus Funds
“Florida is one of a handful of states that has received initial approval of federal stimulus funds for its infrastructure,” says Don Winstead, special advisor to the governor for the implementation of the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Among other things, the state will receive $126 million for a state energy plan and $168 million for energy efficiencies block programs for cities and counties.
“The stimulus money comes at a critical time,” says Winstead. Without federal support in these uncertain economic times, he adds, “a lot of these projects would not have happened or would happen at a much later date. The funds represent an important investment in infrastructure that will also create thousands of jobs.”
Orlando, Miami and Tampa are among the nation’s “Top 30 Most Wired Cities,” according to Forbes’ 2009 rankings based on high-speed connections, Internet access options and Wi-Fi availability.
The Florida Consumer Choice and Protection Act, which took effect in July 2009, is expected to change the telecommunications landscape in Florida, and that makes incumbent telecommunications providers happy. ”We’re delighted with passage of the bill,” says Marshall Criser, CEO of AT&T Florida. “We believe it accurately recognizes that we have a very competitive telecommunication situation in Florida.”
Prior to passage of the legislation, Florida’s telephone companies had complained that they were at a competitive disadvantage with cable companies, whose phone services were not as greatly regulated by the state. By eliminating most state regulations on the phone companies, Florida’s new law is expected to provide a more balanced and competitive business environment. “We understand that our customers have a choice,” says Criser, “and if we don’t meet their needs, then they can go somewhere else.”
The new law also expands existing “lifeline programs” that give credit to low-income customers. Potentially, this could mean another half-million people in Florida will be eligible for cheaper rates. In addition, as demand for wireless broadband services grows, the Florida Department of Management Services (DMS) is working to tap into some of the $7.2 billion in federal stimulus money set aside for developing and expanding broadband services to rural and underserved communities.
Florida is famous for its sunshine, but in preparation for those occasions when the skies do darken here, the state’s utilities routinely inspect their systems and test them for reliability. In addition, they “harden” much of their infrastructure on a regular basis by installing storm-resistant utility poles, clearing vegetation and beefing up communications and recovery plans.
On the electricity side, Progress Energy Florida invested $98 million in 2009 to strengthen its system; it also has a plan to mobilize thousands of employees, who otherwise have different responsibilities, to help in restoration efforts in a 35-county area. Likewise, FPL has committed $200 million to hardening its system, and TECO invests $20 million annually to keep its equipment secure.
Since June 2008, Verizon has invested nearly $190 million in efforts to toughen its Florida system, including construction of 87 new digital cell sites, 85% of which have their own on-site generators, and new, expanded fuel tanks to keep communications flowing.
AT&T has spent more than $500 million nationwide on its Network Disaster Response (NDR) program, which includes more than 150 technology and equipment trailers that company officials can rapidly dispatch anywhere in the U.S. when disaster strikes.
And many in Florida’s private sector are taking precautions. A 2009 survey by e-Rewards Market Research for AT&T reveals that nine out of 10 businesses in Miami, Orlando and Tampa have business continuity plans in place; nearly half require their suppliers and vendors to make continuity plans, too.
As Florida grows, state water managers are charged with the dual responsibility of protecting the environment while meeting the water needs of residents and industry. Florida’s five water management districts, along with other state agencies, continue to seek new sources to address the state’s growing water needs. Close to 50% of the nation’s 250 desalination plants that convert salt water to fresh are found in Florida; the nation’s largest such plant is located in Tampa Bay.
Everglades restoration efforts will help ensure a ready water supply.
In August 2009, a Florida judge ruled that the state can move ahead with a $536-million, 73,000-acre deal with U.S. Sugar to re-establish the water flow from Lake Okeechobee south to the Everglades. In addition, the DEP is using $88 million worth of federal stimulus money to enhance drinking water, and $132.29 million to ensure clean water for Floridians.
|Florida’s Energy Companies|
|City of Tallahassee - Electric Utility
|City of Vero Beach
|Florida Keys Electric Cooperative
|Florida Municipal Power Agency
|Fort Pierce Utilities Authority
|FPL Group Inc.
|Gainesville Regional Utilities
|Homestead Energy Services
|Keys Energy Services
|Kissimmee Utility Authority
|Lake Worth Utilities
|New Smyrna Beach Utilities
|Ocala Electric Utility
|Orlando Utilities Commission
|Progress Energy Florida
|Reedy Creek Improvement District
|Seminole Electric Cooperative
|Tampa Electric Company||tampaelectric.com|