Ocala is among the first cities getting power from two new solar energy farms that went online Tuesday, but it’s going to cost more in the short term.
The solar farms are part of a partnership between the Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA) and 16 public utility companies. The facilities are Harmony Solar Energy Center in St. Cloud and Taylor Creek Solar Energy Center in east Orange County near Wedgefield.
Ocala is one of six cities receiving power generated from the new facilities, which boast almost 600,000 solar panels with a production capacity of 162 megawatts. The farms could generate enough energy to power about 30,000 homes, according to an FMPA press release.
The other cities are Fort Pierce, Jacksonville Beach, Key West, Kissimmee and Orlando.
Right now, production of solar power at the farms is more expensive than electricity produced with natural gas, coal or nuclear energy, so Ocala will initially allow customers to opt-in to use the power, said Eric Weaver, interim director of Ocala Electric Utilities.
The final cost and details for tapping into the solar power supply will go before the Ocala City Council during its July 7 meeting, but Weaver said the draft plan would allow customers to take as little as 25% solar power and as much as 100%. The extra cost per month for a customer that takes 100% solar could be about $16, Weaver said.
“In this day and age, when we’re trying to go green and to reduce our carbon footprint, it feels good to be part of this solar project and be one of the first members to bring it to our customers,” Weaver said.
The city will receive 7 megawatts of solar power initially. By 2023, that should increase to 23 megawatts. Three other solar farms are in the works, including one in Alachua County.
He said the city uses about 300 megawatts of power on the hottest days of the year, so by 2023, solar could account for nearly 10% of the city’s power supply.
“Today is a major step forward in providing affordable, solar energy to our customers,” said Jacob Williams, FMPA’s general manager and CEO, in a prepared statement.
Weaver said he expects the price for solar power will drop as capacity increases. Today, most of Florida’s power is generated by natural gas-fired power plants.
“One day, you might be paying less depending on the price of gas,” Weaver said. “If you sign up now, you can be green and later on, you could be seeing a savings.”
While there is no way to separate solar produced electricity from more traditionally generated power, the customer pays according to the price of generation.
Weaver said the utility surveyed its electric customers several years ago when the solar project was first proposed. The results showed enough customers were interested in taking at least some solar power despite the higher cost.
“Not everybody can afford to put solar panels on their house, or they don’t have the sun exposures where they live. This is a way to give people access to being part of our solar project,” Weaver said.