The Solar Wars continue. As we've been steadily reporting over the past year, the face-off between the state's powerful power utilities and the private solar industry has been pretty much a one-side squabble. Using their sway with Florida's Public Service Commission, the state's power companies like Florida Power & Light have sidelined private companies that install solar power and cut the rebate program aimed at helping individuals who want to go solar.
The utilities claim they're not antisolar. No, in fact when they can ink a big fat government contact, they love it. Which is exactly what's happening on the Panhandle, where one utility is hopping in bed with the U.S. military to build the largest solar installations in the state.
Gulf Power, which lights up the Panhandle, recently announced it's going to be building three solar installations with the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force, according to a release from the utility.
The projects will be at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, the Holley Naval Outlying Landing Field in Navarre, and Saufley Naval Outlying Landing Field in Pensacola. The facilities will be 30-megawatt, 40-megawatt, and 50-megawatt fields, respectively. That's enough juice to power 18,000 homes per year. Although there isn't a public dollar figure stuck to the project that we can find, Renewable Energy Magazine says the projects will be the three largest solar fields in Florida and some of the biggest east of the Mississippi.
The project is grounded in a Department of Defense goal to produce 25 percent of the military's energy from a renewable source by 2025. The northwest Florida facilities could be up and running by 2016 -- that is, if the Florida Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, signs off on the deal. Which... it will.
This is why you should care about a military project on the Panhandle. Over the last year, the Public Service Commission has basically been a rubber stamp for whatever the utilities want. This includes putting the hurt on the private solar industry -- but OK'ing whatever these powerful companies have up their sleeves... which may soon include fracking. The Panhandle project is particularly galling if you've followed the knee-capping of the private solar industry. Here, the utilities are basically saying, "yeah, solar is great... for large government installations... not for your home..."
Would it be too much to ask to see a little backbone from the commission? This project may be well and good for the Panhandle, but you'll likely see no spirited investigation or weighing of the pros and cons from the state's arm. As with just about everything else when it comes to Florida solar, the utilities are calling the shots.
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