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Posted: Friday, April 6, 2018 12:00 am

Service groups gather to hear FPL’s plans for the community

   With the well-known slogan of, “Florida the Sunshine State”, the lack of solar as a power option has often been commented on. The strides Florida Power and Light is making with regard to solar was one of the subjects covered Wednesday, April 4, 2018 at a meeting that included civic organizations of the Rotary, Kiwanis, Soroptimist, and Homestead Woman’s Clubs, the Chamber of Commerce, and others.

   “It’s a great crowd and it’s good to see the groups together like this,” Mayor Jeff Porter of Homestead said. “FPL is a strong partner in the community and it’s important to keep up to date with what they are doing.”

   Baldwin English, External Affairs Manager, may be newly arrived in his position, but as a Miami native, he feels a bit like he’s returned home and is getting around into the communities. He introduced Steve Scroggs, Senior Director, FPL Development, to speak about, “FPL & Miami-Dade County: A Sustainable & Responsible Future.”

   Scroggs, a Navy veteran with nuclear engineering experience, explained an FPL team met with Miami-Dade County Mayor Gimenez and selected staff to discuss development of potential projects.

   Solar and commitment to caring for the environment in existing operations were very much on the agenda. FPL currently operates ten large solar power plants across Florida and has several solar installations and battery-storage research facilities in Miami-Dade. One of the most recent expansions is the Miami-Dade Solar Energy Center, a 74.5-megawatt solar power plant to be built off Krome Avenue.

   All necessary permits have been secured for the site, and FPL expects the plant to ben operation by mid-2020. This will increase the number of solar panels in Miami-Dade to over one million. 

   According to an FPL release, “Miami-Dade County has long supported innovation, and FPL is part of NextEra Energy, Inc. which ranks among the top 20 companies globally in the categories of innovation and social responsibility on Fortune’s 2018 World’s Most Admired Companies list.

FPL first began testing solar technology in the 1980s in Miami-Dade, and FPL’s smart grid, which is the most technologically advanced in the nation, emerged in part from a groundbreaking program the company launched in Miami in 2009.

   Over the past two years, FPL built a major solar research facility at Florida International University and installed approximately 3,500 kilowatts of battery-storage research projects throughout Miami-Dade. FPL is currently exploring opportunities to expand its cutting-edge battery-storage research.

In addition, FPL has selected Miami-Dade as the location of a new pilot study of floating-solar technology – solar panels installed on systems that are deployed in a body of water.”

   “We have made great improvements in the economy of solar power in the past ten years,” Scroggs said. “Battery technology is the next piece.”

Adequate battery storage to augment times when solar is not directly available has seen technological advances, but requires greater improvement to sustain large scale, round-the-clock demand.

   A somewhat related subject is electric cars and while there are more on the road, there are also limited charging stations. FPL’s plans are to install electric-vehicle charging stations at County buildings to support the increased use of electric vehicles within municipal fleets.

   Another major initiative is the advanced reclaimed water facility proposed to link the County with Turkey Point to enable the sustainable reuse of up to 60 million gallons a day of County wastewater. This system would serve as the source of water to cool Turkey Point’s natural gas-fueled Unit 5 and help restore water quality in the cooling canals that serve nuclear-fueled Units 3 and 4. The two most significant impacts are the County will no longer dispose of this water into the ocean and the additional water would greatly reduce the need for Turkey Point to draw water from the aquifer.

   “Miami-Dade County is one of the largest counties in our area of support,” Scroggs said. “The kind of collaboration planned is the strongest we have with any county government. It’s a model we can use for the future.”

   He also pointed out the more than $1 billion to upgrade Turkey Point’s nuclear units in recent years, and additional upgrades on the existing nuclear units are expected to further boost their output. The goals of, “Low cost, Reliability, and Cleaner” are key factors in decisions made. In fact, Turkey Point will soon file with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to renew the units’ operating licenses until 2052 and 2053. This anticipates saving FPL customers billions of dollars by avoiding the need for other, more expensive power generation.

   There were a range of questions, one of which was about how many new jobs these projects would bring. Scroggs explained all projects will require construction and the water reclamation plant envisions almost 100 permanent jobs for operation. For each project, FPL will hire locally as much as possible.

In questioning the use of other energy alternatives such as waste-burning and wind, Scroggs said their parent company, NextEra Energy, uses wind in other parts of the country, and FPL does work some with waste-burning facilities. For the foreseeable future, solar was a better choice for Florida.

   Peter Schnebly, well-known for establishing and expanding the unique Schnebly Redland’s Winery and Brewery, is particularly enthusiastic about solar. “This is exciting news. I think we were one of the first local industries to add solar. We’ve done as much as we can for now and would like to add even more to be completely solar and self-sufficient.”

   The presentation was not all technology-based though. Student ACES (ACE) is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing leadership programs, mentoring, scholarships and internship opportunities for high school students. The organization was established in 2013 by Buck Martinez, a long time FPL employee, and his daughter. Martinez drove down from Palm Beach to talk about their intent to expand more in Miami-Dade County to include into Homestead. FPL is a major sponsor in their programs. Some of the attendees will be meeting with him in the near future about how the organization will benefit local youth.

   There was a touch of irony as the meeting closed and after having talked a good deal about solar, everyone had to either wait to leave or dash through the rain that had come up.

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