Florida munis sign contracts with 223 MW of solar power

Another public power group has signed a major PV procurement for some of its members, this time in the Sunshine State. The Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA) recently announced an agreement to purchase power from utility-scale solar projects which will be located in central Florida’s Orange and Osceola Counties. Three projects totaling 223.5 MW will be developed by NextEra Florida Renewables, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy. The purchasers will be 12 municipal utilities that are members of FMPA.

These 12 utilities provide electricity to the cities of Alachula, Bartow, Homestead, Kissimmee, Lake Worth, Ocala, Wachula and Winter Park, plus (Jacksonville) Beaches Energy, Fort Pierce Utilities Authority, Keys Energy Services and Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC). According to U.S. Energy Information Agency data, these utilities consumed 13.3 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2016. OUC is by far the largest utility, with over half of the share.

The municipal utilities, like most of the state, are laggards in using solar in their electric mix. FMPA reports that their members had about 3.3 MW of solar capacity operating in their districts, generating 4.6 gigawatt-hours (GWh) in 2016, which does not even represent a rounding error of total usage. Florida as a whole doesn’t fare much better, generating just under one half of one percent of its electricity from the sun in 2017, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The FMPA procurement will make a significant improvement in the members’ electricity mix. Using National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PVWatts simulation, 223.5 MW in the Orlando region using single axis tracking would generate about 400 GWh a year, around 3% of the participating utilities’ electricity consumption. This diversity will help FMPA members reduce power generation heavily reliant on fossil fuels, particularly natural gas.

The procurement is a 20-year power purchase agreement, with options for two 5-year extensions. This factor was noted in the City of Alachula’s website announcing the project. According to the utility, if natural gas prices fail to rise over the next 30 years, the savings (for all participating utilities) would be $2 million a year. However, if natural gas prices increase by 4%, the savings will be approximately $7 million. Construction and operation are expected sometime in 2020.

This procurement is not only part of a boom for large-scale solar in Florida, but also part of a growing trend by municipal utility and rural electric cooperative associations to purchase significant amounts of solar and other sources of renewable electricity. Municipal solar procurement has been led by utilities in San Antonio and Austin, Texas, as well as cities and counties in California, which have been procuring renewable energy through Community Choice Aggregation.