GREEN COVE SPRINGS – A proposed 425-acre Magnolia Springs Solar Energy Center south of Green Cove Springs would produce enough power for about 15,000 homes.
Florida Power and Light has purchased a large parcel of land near Leno Road and Haller Airpark. Though FPL only has about 1,000 customers in all of Clay County, the site would provide power to thousands of customers in surrounding counties.
“We chose that site because it met all the criteria that we look for to potentially build out our next project,” said FPL Spokesman Stephen Heiman. “There’s not a timeline for this project just yet, but what you’ll see across the state is we’re always planning ahead to meet those power needs and we routinely purchase parcels that we believe will help us meet those needs.”
Once FPL finds a piece of desirable land, they buy it. Just this year FPL has brought online eight energy centers, all of which were the same size as the one proposed for Green Cove Springs, this year and is in the early building stages for four more.
“Solar is definitely growing at a rapid pace, and FPL is in one of the largest solar expansions in the United States,” Heiman said. “Over the next 10-15 years you’ll see a much larger incorporation of solar energy and with that you’ll start to see other technologies that piggyback off of solar like battery storage technology.”
FPL has plans to incorporate 2,300 megawatts of solar power into its system by 2023, which would put the Juno Beach-based power company at about 10 million total solar panels in service. To reach that level they would need about 31 solar energy centers, and they’ve built, or at least started building, just over 20. Heiman estimates that the eight brought online this year will save customers $100,000,000 even after the cost of construction is factored out.
Though the project won’t bring much power to Clay County residents who don’t receive FPL power, Heiman said that once construction gets going they will offer about 200-300 jobs to local people for the 7-to 9-month construction period. Two years ago, when constructing the solar center in the Melrose area, FPL hired some contractors for as much as $18 per hour, which at the time, were jobs that proved to be in-demand.
“We ask contractors to look and hire locally,” Heiman said. “We’ve seen that in two recent North Florida projects, in Putnam and Alachua Counties, where 90 percent of the labor came from in and around those counties.”
Heiman also said that once the Magnolia Springs station is finished, that does not necessarily mean the job is done.
“Contractors pull talent from previous jobs onto new construction sites,” he said. “They’re going to look at previous workers first when they go to build the next one because of that experience.”
Recently FPL met with its future neighbors at the Green Cove Springs Police Department, which they consider an act of good faith as well as to explain the project before it gets underway, what impacts if any and just to get to know the area and the people who live there.
“We want to continue to be as transparent and open about the project to our future neighbors,” Heiman said. “Meetings like this benefit us too because these landowners know the area and can help us out.”
He said that some people hear power plant and think about smoke stacks, trucks going in and out and lighting at night. With solar, however, none of this is the case. Once the solar center goes online it is monitored remotely, and functions without any sound or need for after-dark lighting. FPL has even partnered with the Audubon Society to incorporate “Solar Sanctuaries” into most of their projects that provide a habitat for local animals, such as bees or bats since the panels go directly into the ground and still allow grass to grow underneath.
Heiman said the project should be moving forward shortly as it seeks approval from local government at the county level, if that is granted they will set a timeline and start making plans for construction.