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New Solar Retrofit Sparks Up Old Gas Power Plant

Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center goes online in FloridaWhy is this alligator smiling? Perhaps he (or she, whatever) is happy because his home state of Florida is beginning to establish itself as a solar power innovator and leader. The latest marker is the new Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Martin County, which just powered up over the weekend. CleanTechnica covered the story when this unique solar hybrid power plant plant was still under construction, and it’s worth making another visit to see what was said – and not said – at the opening ceremonies.

World’s First Hybrid-Solar Power Plant

The new plant is one of three huge new solar facilities commissioned by the utility Florid Power & Light. Apparently the first in the world of its kind, the Solar Energy Center consists of 190,000 solar panels working in combination with an existing natural gas-fired power plant. As a means of seamlessly transitioning out of fossil fuels and into renewables, the hybrid power plant concept is sort of like a mega-scale version of the Chevy Volt. You get all the advantages of new energy but the old energy is still there as a cushion. It’s also an example of a transitional energy storage solution, in which the natural gas supply takes on the role of stored energy, instead of building a new facility to store solar energy.

Clean Taxes

One advantage of clean energy is the concept of clean taxes. In its first year, the plant is expected to generate a whopping $5 million in new local tax revenue in its home county, Martin. That’s virtually impact-free revenue for the local economy, without the environmental, public health and and public safety risks (and costs) that local communities usually have to put up with when hosting fossil fuel operations.

A Who’s Who of Solar Energy Fans in Florida

As an indicator of the statewide significance of the new plant, the switch-flipping ceremony was attended by a long list of dignitaries, including the Governor of Florida. While not quoted in FPL’s press release, at the ceremony the Governor provided a clear statement of appreciation for FPL and NextEra, the company that built the installation. Left out of all the hoopla (unless I missed something) was any appreciation for federal taxpayers, who chipped in about $120 million in Recovery Act funding for the plant and the two other new FPL solar energy facilities.

Foreign Oil and Solar Energy

Some politicians get a little hinky when it comes to supporting federal Recovery Act funding, so the omission is nothing new. Also not news is the Governor of Florida’s statement about reducing our dependence on “foreign oil.” It’s pretty obvious why the word “foreign” is so tightly entwined with “oil”  in some circles, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying. It’s sort of a passive-aggressive way of saying that we need to continue exploiting domestic resources, so that we don’t have to exploit foreign resources. In other words, it’s good policy for the U.S. to continue to engage in fossil fuel operations that involve high costs and high risks at every stage from harvesting to transportation to the final burn, as long as we keep all those impacts right here at home.

Image: Florida alligator statue by Gregory Moine on

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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