Florida Power & Light Co. is pursuing the plan to build a $116 million solar energy center on the site of a former orange grove just south of the Barefoot Bay, the News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
Representatives of the utility have been meeting in the recent weeks with community groups in South Brevard County about the plan. On Thursday evening, FPL plans to make a presentation to the Brevard County commissioners as part of the utility's request for zoning the changes which would clear the way for construction of the facility later this year. Last week in a presentation to the advisory Brevard County Local Planning Agency, representatives of the project said that the proposed Barefoot Bay Solar Energy Center would be built on a 462-acre site, and would generate 74.5 megawatts of power, which is enough energy to power about 15,000 homes.
FPL said that the solar panels would be built low to the ground, and the operation would be "virtually silent." The utility said the project is designed to avoid or minimize the impact to wetlands, drainage and wildlife. The solar center also does not use water or produce the waste during its operation, and the solar panels will emit no odors or chemicals.
In the last week, FPL commissioned three new solar energy centers in the Charlotte, DeSoto and Manatee counties. The utility also announced their plans to build eight more 74.5-megawatt solar energy centers by the March of 2018, including the Barefoot Bay-area plant, at the total cost of about $900 million.
Four of them are expected to be completed by the end of the year 2017, and the other four, including the Barefoot Bay plant, would be complected by March 1st, 2018.
FPL said that its customers would pay for the $900 million cost of the eight plants after they went into service.
Combined, the new plants are expected to generate enough energy annually to power about 120,000 homes and produce net savings for the FPL customers of $39 million over their operational lifetime. FPL said that the net savings are due primarily to the projected reduction in the use of fossil fuels more than offsetting the cost to build the plants.
Mel Scott, the senior business development director for Atkins North America Inc., which is working with the FPL to seek regulatory approvals for the project, said that it is "very fitting and appropriate" that the proposed solar project would be built on the site of the former orange grove, thus creating a new resource of energy from the sun.
"It's very exciting," said Scott, who is the former assistant Brevard County manager for development and public services.
If the project gets the necessary state and county regulatory approval, Scott said, construction could begin in the late spring, and the center could be "producing clean, renewable energy" by the early 2018.
FPL said that the Barefoot Bay project would create 200 to 250 jobs during the construction.
The site is about 450 feet south of the Micco Road and west of Fleming Grant Road in unincorporated Brevard, about 1.5 miles west of the U.S. 1.
FPL representatives met in Jan. 19 with members of the Barefoot Bay Recreation District's board of trustees and area homeowners to discuss about the project. The utility reps also went door-to-door with literature about the project.
In the last week, there also was a public information session at the local American Legion post.
The proposed solar farm would be fairly isolated and surrounded by the trees and vegetation, although the property is not far from the residential development to the north and east.
The 74.5-megawatt solar facility would have about 330,000 solar panels. The panels stand about 2 feet off the ground, and are typically 6 to 7 feet tall.
The facility will be designed to convert the sunlight via photovoltaic solar arrays into electricity, that then is carried to the nearby collector substation, where the voltage is boosted for transmission through the electric grid for delivery to the homes and businesses.
After the construction is completed, the center would operate on its own, with the periodic maintenance workers.
One person, named Stacy Moore, filed a written objection to the project with the Brevard County Planning and Development Department. Moore cited concerns about the property values, drainage and impact on the wildlife related to the proposed solar farm, and called the project as "a losing proposition."
FPL is seeking what is known as a large-scale comprehensive plan amendment from the Brevard County as well as the related zoning changes, land use designation changes and a conditional-use permit — to move forward with the project.
On Thursday, the County Commission will be asked to start the process by transmitting the proposed comprehensive plan amendment to the state for review by several agencies. The Local Planning Agency in the last week unanimously recommended that the County Commission take that step.
Scott said that the request is likely to come back to the Local Planning Agency and the County Commission in late-April for final votes.
FPL currently operates with more than 335 megawatts of solar generating capacity, enough to power the 60,000 homes. This includes the 10-megawatt FPL Space Coast Next Generation Solar Energy Center at the Kennedy Space Center.