Tampa Electric won state approval this week to add 260 more megawatts (MW) of solar to its generation fleet by January and to recover the cost. The five separate projects in this endeavor comprise the second phase of the utility’s blazing solar program, which will involve an $850 million investment that will add 600 MW of solar across 10 installations by 2021.
The six million solar panels that will have been installed across the 10 solar projects will power more than 100,000 homes and raise the utility’s solar generation asset share to 7%, which would be a higher percentage of solar generation than any other Florida utility has. The following phases of the Tampa Electric solar program will be complete in January 2019, January 2020, and January 2021, the utility indicates.
“All 10 of the solar projects were approved by the regulators for construction, but what we got approval for this week was the cost recovery of phase two,” says Cherie Jacobs, a spokesperson for Tampa Electric. The solar program is part of the utility’s 2018 Ten Year Site Plan, submitted to the Florida Public Services Commission in April.
“These solar projects are a win for our customers and a win for the environment,” said Nancy Tower, CEO of the utility, in a statement Monday. “These solar projects are a cheaper option for customers than keeping our generating fleet running as it is today,” she added.
To avoid potential cost overruns due to new import taxes on solar panels, Tampa Electric forged a deal in January with First Solar to supply the solar panels for the solar program from sources other than China.
“Thanks to good planning and strategy, Tampa Electric secured a contract with a solar panel manufacturer, First Solar, that uses a type of technology that is exempt from the tariff,” said Tom Hernandez, senior vice president of Business Strategy and Renewables for the utility, at the time of the deal. The 600 MW of thin-film solar panels the deal covers will be manufactured at First Solar’s Ohio and Malaysia facilities.
First Solar will build some of the 10 solar plants in the program, but not all, Jacobs says.
The utility built its first commercial scale solar facility in 2015, a 1.6 MW AC facility at Tampa International Airport in 2015. Among other existing solar plants in Tampa Electric’s service area is the utility-scale 19.4 MW AC Big Bend Solar Station located near Big Bend Power Station, which began operation in February 2017. Smaller high-visibility solar installations include the Museum of Science and Industry, Walker Middle and Middleton High schools, the Manatee Viewing Center, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, the Florida Aquarium, and Legoland in Florida’s Imagination Zone.
The company’s renewable-generation portfolio is a mix of various solar technologies, including seven smaller, company-owned solar arrays totaling 116 kW AC, and three large-scale solar systems totaling 22.4 MW AC, the company reports.
Tampa Electric is one of Florida’s largest investor-owned electric utilities, serving about 750,000 customers in West Central Florida. The company is a subsidiary of Emera, a geographically diverse energy and services company headquartered in Halifax.
Florida now ranks as 8th among the 50 US states for installed solar capacity with 1.9 GW, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. A total of 227,340 homes and an unidentified number of businesses are powered by solar, representing 0.65% of the state’s total energy consumption.
Total solar investment in solar energy in Florida now stands at $2.6 billion, a number that will rise substantially with the Tampa Electric investment in its solar program. SEIA predicts that 5.2 GW of solar will be installed in the state over the next five years, which would raise its national ranking to second in terms of its installed solar generation base.
The future of Florida’s solar growth is less than clear, however. “Florida, the sunshine state, ranks third in the nation for rooftop solar potential, but all the way down at 12th for cumulative solar capacity installed. Florida’s solar policies lag behind many other states in the nation: it has no renewable portfolio standard and does not allow power purchase agreements, two policies that have driven investments in solar in other states,” SEIA opines in a state analysis.
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