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March 31,2015 - Charlotte inches toward solar farm incentive

By ADAM KREGER

   STAFF WRITER – Sun Herald

CHARLOTTE — County officials have indicated they’ll soon sign off on an economic development incentive for Florida Power & Light, as the company could begin construction later this year on a massive solar farm in the Babcock Ranch area.

   The incentive essentially would give FPL a tax break for using the county’s land for the $100 million project, but the solar farm would “provide significant return on investment to the county,” according to the county’s website. Agreeing to the incentive would be the next step toward making the possibility of a huge local solar farm a reality.

   “It would efficiently generate electricity to put into the grid,” said Lucienne Pears, with the Charlotte County Economic Development Office.

   The County Commission briefly discussed the incentive for FPL at a pre-agenda meeting Thursday, and plans to approve it at Tuesday’s meeting. The proposed incentive for FPL is 30 percent of the county portion of annual ad valorem taxes paid by the project, but the   amount is not to exceed $250,000 per year, or a total of $1.5 million over 10 years.

   “It’s pretty straightforward,” commissioner Ken Doherty said. “If they show they’re paying their taxes, they’ll get a check.”

   In mid-December, the Florida Public Service Commission approved a deal allowing FPL to be the sole power utility to serve the sprawling Babcock Ranch community, where 19,000 homes are planned to be developed on roughly 18,000 acres next to the Babcock Ranch Preserve.

   FPL spokeswoman Alys Daly said Thursday, “Until everything is approved, (the Charlotte farm) is not a done deal,” but, should FPL and the county clear a few more legal hurdles, construction on the local project would begin after the spring and finish sometime next year.

   On Jan. 26, FPL released details about plans to install at least 1 million solar panels between three new solar power plants in an effort to advance the use of affordable, clean energy in Florida. The three anticipated sites are the one in Charlotte, another in DeSoto County near the state’s first large-scale solar plant, and the third in Manatee County on the site of an existing FPL   natural gas power plant.

   According to an FPL media release, solar power — even the most economical large-scale installation — generally is not yet cost effective in FPL’s service area, due in part to its higher costs compared to the company’s highly efficient system and low electric rates. But, the sites in Charlotte, DeSoto and Manatee are advantageous because of “built-in advantages, such as the existence of suffi- cient transmission and substation infrastructure, which reduce the overall cost of building new solar plants.”

   Each of the new plants is being designed for roughly 74 megawatts of capacity.

   FPL president and CEO Eric Silagy said in the press release, “These exciting large-scale solar projects — equivalent to roughly 45,000 typical residential rooftop systems — will bring new tax revenue and several hundred new jobs to rural communities we serve and deliver emissions-free power when the sun is shining to our customers across the state.”

   The commission meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the County Administration Building, 18500 Murdock Circle.

   Email:  akreger@sun-herald.com