A plant near Immokalee will soon harvest the sun for energy.
Florida Power & Light plans to build a new solar plant on the outskirts of the rural farming town, known for its tomatoes and citrus.
The project is a first for Collier County.
County commissioners granted the final approvals for the multimillion-dollar plant at a board meeting June 22.
The board greenlighted a conditional use to allow the plant to be built on agricultural land and signed off on several variances to the county’s landscaping requirements, which could have made the project cost-prohibitive.
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County commissioners didn’t discuss the project, giving it a thumbs-up as part of the summary agenda, which the board typically doesn’t talk about.
Property records show the land for the new solar plant changed hands earlier this year, with FPL paying nearly $5.5 million for it.
The seller, Barron Collier Cos., had used the land to grow citrus, but the grove had reached the “end of its useful life,” said company CEO Blake Gable.
The Naples-based company has worked with FPL for years to find a site for the solar center in Collier.
No one objected to the chosen site or the plans for it.
“It’s a great use,” Gable said.
The property spans about 578 acres. It sits on the east side of the intersection at State Road 29 and State Road 82.
On a mission
Ashley Fogg Schutz, a spokeswoman for FPL, said the project is part of the company’s “30-by-30” plan to install 30 million solar panels by the year 2030.
Since launching the initiative in 2009 the company has achieved 40% of its goal with more than 40 solar energy centers operating across 22 Florida counties. The plants meet FPL’s mission to “deliver America’s best energy value — energy that’s not just reliable and affordable but also clean,” Schutz said.
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In 2009, the company built Florida’s first solar energy center in DeSoto County, the largest of its kind in the nation when it opened.
“For perspective, the solar energy centers we are building today are three times as large and cost less to build,” Schutz said.
Locating a solar plant near Immokalee made sense for many reasons, she said.
“Land that is affordable, close to existing transmission lines, flat, and with minimal environmentally sensitive areas is ideal for universal solar projects,” Schutz said. “Additionally, Southwest Florida has always been fundamental to our solar expansion efforts.”
FPL plans ahead to ensure it’s prepared to meet the future needs of its customers, she said.
“Accordingly, we routinely purchase parcels that we believe would help us meet those needs, whether they be for distribution facilities, service centers, or solar energy centers. By being proactive and thinking long-term, we’re ensuring that we maintain low bills and high reliability for all our customers today and for years to come,” Schutz said.
The energy the local solar plant generates will flow directly into the grid, benefiting customers not just in Southwest Florida but statewide.
It’s a big expense as each solar energy plant generally represents an investment of $90 million, Schutz said.
“Importantly, though, our solar expansion is one example of the smart investments to modernize our entire power system that have saved FPL customers $11 billion since 2001, eliminated more than 165 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and reduced our dependence on foreign oil by 99%,” she said.
The center in Collier County, similar to others built by FPL around the state, will have the capability of producing up to 74.5 megawatts of energy annually, enough to power 15,000 homes.
The solar plant will have nearly 300,000 photovoltaic panels. The emissions savings will equate to removing 14,000 cars from the road each year, Schutz said.
The project will take six to 10 months to build, creating about 200 construction jobs. FPL anticipates completion by March of next year.
“We may build additional solar energy centers in Collier County in the future as Southwest Florida is an important part of our plans for solar expansion,” Schutz said.
The closest plants to Collier are in Charlotte and Hendry counties on the west coast. There are also ones in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties in South Florida.
FPL is currently building the Ghost Orchid Solar Energy Center and the Sawgrass Solar Energy Center, both near Clewiston in Hendry County.
“Solar energy centers provide benefits to local communities. A solar energy center will provide millions in tax revenue to the community’s tax base over its expected life, which county leadership can apply as they see fit, including to benefit local schools or improve infrastructure and services,” Schutz said.
Typically, the plants don’t face public opposition.
“Unlike traditional power plants, solar energy centers require no vertical construction, so there is little or no visual impact, and the facilities generate no noise, light, heat, or odors,” Schutz said. “Solar energy centers make great neighbors.”