A 330,000-panel Florida Power & Light solar farm under construction on the south side of State Road 44 near Samsula will double as a protected native plant and wildlife preserve under the auspices of Audubon Florida.
On a former sod farm property visible from the busy state highway, the 1,200-acre Pioneer Trail Solar Energy Center also will serve as a wildlife habitat for birds, butterflies, bees and other plant pollinators.
The 74.5-megawatt clean energy plant is one of four new FPL solar energy centers under construction in Florida, and will increase the number owned by the nation’s third-largest power company to 18. Other plants are under construction in Columbia, St.Lucie and Miami-Dade counties.
When completed in mid-2019, the solar farm will generate enough electricity from the sun to power about 15.000 Volusia County homes, according to the company.
“FPL’s installation of this new center in Volusia County moves us closer toward our Sustainability Action Plan goals,” said Katrina Locke, the county’s natural resources director. “Renewable energy is a great way to help reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and protect our natural resources for future generations.
FPL also announced it will expand its existing “Solar Sanctuary” partnership with Audubon Florida to include the Pioneer Trail Solar Energy Center.
Solar panel farms are designed by the company so the land required can also be used as habitats for native plants and wildlife.
“It is very exciting to see FPL’s commitment to invest in solar energy,” said Jacqui Sulek, chapter conservation manager for Audubon Florida. “Clean energy technology is a great way to meet energy demands and save water. We look forward to continuing our relationship with FPL to add value to our birds, pollinators and other wildlife.”
FPL refers to solar energy farms as “the perfect neighbor.”
“Universal solar energy centers are quiet, require no water for operation or maintenance, and solar panels sit close to the ground,” said FPL representative Alys Daly. “A solar center does not require staff to operate, so it won’t bring traffic to the area after construction.'
During construction, the project will employ about 200 workers, she said.
The site is a former sod farm, which had been farmed and owned for generations by the Kirkland family, sellers of the property.
Of the total acreage, only about 450 are designated for the garage door-size solar panels, Ms. Daly said.
The Pioneer Trail Solar Center won’t be the only FPL solar installation in Volusia County.
In early 2016, Daytona International Speedway put in operation the FPL Solar Circuit, a system of more than 7,000 solar panels that generate electricity for both the speedway and 4.8 million FPL customers.
The DIS circuits’ total generating capacity is about 2.1 megawatts (2,100 kilowatts), ranking the speedway in the top five U.S. professional sports facilities for solar energy installations, according to data from the Solar Energy Industries Association.
The 14 major FPL solar power plants in operation, along with more than 200 smaller solar installations, generate more than 935 megawatts of power for customers, according to Ms. Daly.
“Florida is leading the nation in implementing solar energy affordability,” said Eric Silagy, FPL president and CEO. “And we’ve proven that it’s possible to be both clean and reliable while keeping our customers’ electric bills among the lowest in the nation.”
FPL projects solar will outpace coal and oil combined as a percentage of the company’s energy mix by the year 2020, with the company aiming to have about 10 million solar panels in operation by 2022.