FPL to double solar energy capacity in Manatee County. Here’s the timeline

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the exact location in Duette, where the solar energy plant will be located.

Two years after Florida Power and Light activated its new 74.5-megawatt solar power plant in Parrish, FPL announced it plans to double its solar generating capacity in Manatee County.

The new plant, Southfork Solar Energy Center, to be located in Duette at 34030 State Road 62 in a former citrus grove, will also generate 74.5 megawatts.

The new plant is expected to be activated in 2020.

Southfork is one of four new solar plants FPL announced this week. The others are planned for Okeechobee County, Palm Beach County and Suwannee County.

By building its solar power plants under 75 megawatts, FPL avoids having to competitively bid each project as required by the state Power Plant Siting Act.

“The construction of four additional solar energy centers is just the latest demonstration of our laser focus on advancing solar energy for all of our customers, while keeping their bills lower than 90 percent of the country,” FPL president and CEO Eric Silagy said in a press release.

“These solar plants are part of our commitment to installing 30 million more solar panels by 2030 across more than 100 new solar sites, resulting in the creation of thousands of jobs here in our state.”

The FPL Solar Energy Center in Parrish was completed in 2017, augmenting the site’s existing fossil fuel generating plant. Bradenton Herald file photo

The four new 74.5-megawatt solar power plants will generate enough energy to power about 60,000 homes.

“It’s exciting to continue to be a part of what FPL’s solar expansion is doing for our state,” Manatee County Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace said. “We know firsthand the benefits a solar plant brings to our community and look forward to the additional economic and environmental benefits, including more green energy and jobs, another solar facility will bring to Manatee County.”

Florida ranked second in the nation in 2018 in solar employment, behind California, according to a recent report by The Solar Foundation.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity projects solar jobs to grow by more than 60 percent through 2026, compared to statewide job growth of about 10 percent.

Ground was broken for the first Parrish solar plant in February 2016. Workers installed 338,000 solar panels in 11 months.

The original Parrish solar 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.

In 2009, President Barack Obama helped commission the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Arcadia. At the time, it was the largest in the country. The Arcadia plant generated 25 megawatts of power, enough to power 3,000 homes.