Business Florida 2021 - The Regions
DeSoto • Glades • Hardee • Hendry • Highlands • Okeechobee
South Central is an anomaly among Florida’s eight economic development regions. It has neither a saltwater coastline nor a theme park. But what it does have are wide open spaces and an enviable geographic location. Three interstate highways and the Okeechobee Waterway, a system of navigable rivers and canals linking Florida’s east and west coasts through Lake Okeechobee, put nearly 90% of the state’s entire population within a 150-mile radius. This is Florida’s heartland where citrus growers and cattle ranchers do business alongside manufacturing facilities and solar power plants. To site a company here is to enjoy the best of two worlds — backyard picnics and porch swings close at hand, with beaches and big, bustling cities just a short drive away.
Blessed with an abundance of two important commodities — available land and sunshine — Florida’s South Central region offers the ideal environment for solar power generation. In 2009, Florida Power & Light chose to site the state’s first solar power plant — DeSoto Solar Energy Center — in this region. Next came FPL’s Citrus Solar Energy Center in 2016 and, two years later, its Wildflower Solar Energy Center. These three facilities generated enough solar power — more than any other county in the state could claim — for DeSoto to be dubbed Florida’s “solar capital.”
A fourth FPL facility — Hammock Solar Energy Center — opened in Hendry County in 2018. With 74.5 megawatts of solar capacity each, the Citrus, Wildflower and Hammock plants collectively generate enough electricity to power approximately 45,000 homes. And the drive to improve and enlarge South Central’s solar power footprint didn’t stop there.
In early 2018, FPL unveiled a solar-plus-storage system at the Citrus Solar Energy Center. For the Citrus plant, this has meant a potential increase of more than 500,000 kilowatt-hours delivered to the electric grid per year and increased capacity to store energy for dispatch to the grid at a later time.
Fast forward to January 2019. FPL launched its “30-by-30” plan, committing to the installation of 30 million more solar panels across Florida by 2030. Six months later, FPL began construction on 10 new solar power plants, three of which are located in the South Central region. Blue Heron Solar Energy Center in Hendry County, Cattle Ranch Solar Energy in DeSoto County and Okeechobee Solar Energy Center in Okeechobee County opened in spring 2020, bringing FPL’s total number of solar power plants in Florida to 24.
Keeping with its goal of 14 universal solar power plants in operation across the state by 2023, Duke Energy Florida’s 45-megawatt Lake Placid Solar Power Plant began operations in Highlands County in December 2019. In August 2020, Duke announced plans to build an 18-megawatt lithium battery storage site at the Lake Placid plant to increase energy security and enable the integration of more renewables. The 74.9-megawatt Charlie Creek Solar Plant on 610 acres in Hardee County is due to be completed in late 2021.
KEY PLAYERS: Florida Power & Light, Juno Beach; Duke Energy Florida, St. Petersburg