Workers at Florida Power and Light’s Manatee Solar Energy Center celebrated the installation of 75 percent of its 338,000 solar panels Thursday.
Workers were honored for hitting the milestone without safety issues, and celebrated with free pizza and ice cream for lunch.
“Little things go a long way,” said Johnny Lynch, senior project manager.
Ground was broken in February on the huge project covering 762 acres — more than 570 football fields. Parrish is expected to start producing 74.5 megawatts of energy in December.
The Parrish power plant is one of three that FPL launched at the same time. The others are near Arcadia in DeSoto County and at Babcock Ranch in Charlotte County. Building the three new plants is a workforce of about 250.
The number of solar panels planned for Parrish
The new plants together will triple FPL’s solar capacity and help move Florida into sixth place among the 50 states.
The solar panels are being installed atop 41,000 piles, or columns, driven 8 to 10 feet into the ground, and are designed to withstand hurricane force winds, Lynch said.
The panels will produce direct current, which will be converted to alternating current through inverters, and then be stepped up through a transformer at a substation before feeding into the Parrish power plant.
With zero emissions, the clean solar project has generated more enthusiasm from workers and the community than any other project he has been involved with in 20 years, Lynch said.
“People are excited about it,” he said.
We’re getting nothing but cleaner.
Alys Daly, FPL
Primarily, the excitement stems from the green nature of the solar center.
“All of the solar projects are laid out to minimize the impact to vegetation and wetlands,” said Stephen Heiman, FPL communications specialist.
The solar field in Parrish is built around wetlands. FPL was required to not only preserve wetlands on its property, but to clean them up by removing invasive exotic species.
FPL is doing intermittent testing on the first solar panels that have been installed. The first of four blocks of solar panels is just about operational, and the second block will be soon, officials said.
In all, FPL will install 1 million solar panels at its Parrish, DeSoto and Charlotte plants, said Alys Daly, FPL manager of public affairs.
FPL’s emission profile already meets federal requirements, Daly said. Prior to 2001, FPL was one of the largest oil users in the United States.
“We have reduced the use of oil by 99 percent. We decided that natural gas was the way to go,” she said. “We’re getting nothing but cleaner.”
The three new solar facilities are costing FPL about $400 million.
In addition to the solar facilities, FPL is investing in smart grid technology and smart meters, Daly said.
With no end in sight to Florida growth, FPL must have its infrastructure in place before new arrivals even decide to move to the Sunshine State, she said.
Six years ago, FPL built the Arcadia solar power plant, which at the time was one of the largest in the United States. FPL’s three new sites are each more than three times larger than the original Arcadia site.