FPL proposes thermal solar array at Manatee power plant
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01/21/09 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

The state’s largest energy producer, Florida Power & Light, may build a solar thermal array at their Parrish power plant.

Doing this would destroy wetlands; for that, FPL must first receive a zoning change from the Manatee County Commission.

FPL currently has a power plant in Parrish that generates electricity using oil and natural gas. On Tuesday, the company presented to the Manatee County Commission its idea of a solar thermal array that could reduce the use of natural gas during the day.

Joe McClash is a Manatee County Commissioner. “Florida Power & Light is proposing to put in a solar array to help offset using fossil fuels to generate electricity. The array will produce around 85 megawatts of power on a daily basis. … The type of collectors they’re planning on using are the parabolic type of collectors that concentrates the energy of the sun utilizing a mirror into a vessel that’s filed with liquid and then that is heated up to a significantly high temperature to offset using natural gas for heating up the fluid to a high temperature.”

That fluid will be used to turn water into steam that will turn a turbine to generate electricity. FPL’s Rae Dowling said the company is not proposing a solar thermal plant yet -- they have only approached Manatee County for rezoning.

FPL spokesperson Jackie Anderson said the power plant in Parrish is one of the places being considered for the solar thermal array.

But Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash thinks that the solar thermal array will be built in Parrish and that FPL will receive financial incentives to construct it.

“They’re planning on utilizing the site for a solar field, dependent from other types of, I guess, credits that Florida Power & Light is going after to justify the project. But it’s a good indication, at least in our opinion, that Florida Power & Light’s serious commitment to this area for alternative energy.”

But much of the area near the Manatee power plant where the solar thermal array would be built is not zoned for that type of use, which is why FPL is requesting a zoning change from the County Commission.

Carol Clarke is the Planning Director for Manatee County. “I think it is all zoned agriculture right at the moment. It would be rezoned to planned development - public interest and it would include their entire site, which would include the existing power plant, offices, and equipment and then the three solar thermal fields and solar steam generation building that they’re proposing. ”

One potential drawback to obtaining a change in zoning is that there are wetlands on 98 of the site’s 600 acres, Clarke said.

“They are proposing an impact to 46 and a half [acres] of those. They had reduced the impact from when they had initially talked to us, focusing on wetlands that had been disturbed by previous agricultural activity. One of the things that is necessary for this kind of solar array is that it needs to be close to the actual plant itself because if you lose that thermal energy then you’re not as effective. So they have focused on maintaining the most significant wetlands and having impacts to those wetlands that are already currently impacted.”

Doug Means is environmental administrator with Manatee County and says his office is considering how the land that will be affected by the FPL project is evaluated based on the state’s wetlands rating system – the uniform methodology for mitigation.

“Those scores were showing relatively good wetlands in some of the areas and then some that were more compromised. So FP&L came back in after having some discussions with us, came back in with the current proposal which preserves the better quality wetlands and only impacts the smaller, fragmented, and more impacted wetlands.”

Means says his office will submit an environmental report to the Manatee County Commission before a public hearing on Feb. 12.

“We are going to be formulating a report to submit back to the Board before it actually goes into the public hearing phase with planning commission and then the board of county commissioners with more specific responses to some of the wetlands questions that they had yesterday.”

Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash says rezoning approval for FPL’s solar thermal array looks favorable. “Commission gave it a pretty good amount of support the other day when it came in front of us. There’s always the details to be worked out. However, it appears like everybody at this time is looking at it being approved, subject to it meeting all the county’s land-use criteria. But at this time it looks like a viable project for Manatee County.”

At the Feb. 12 public hearing, the Manatee County planning commission will consider the rezoning request and the proposed general development plan, and make a recommendation to the County Commission, which could decide on the proposed rezoning in March.

Manatee County Commission

FPL - Florida Power & Light

ManaSota-88

Florida Solar Energy Center

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