Make us your home page

Tampa Electric to build largest solar array in Tampa Bay

TAMPA — Tampa Electric Co. wants to build the biggest solar array in the Tampa Bay area.

The subsidiary of TECO Energy announced Tuesday that it plans to erect a 25-megawatt facility using 70,000 solar panels on 125 acres at its Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach.

When finished in 2016, it will be the largest solar installation in the bay area. It will produce more than seven times the electricity generated by the current title-holder, Tampa's James A. Haley VA Medical Center, which generates up to 3.2 megawatts.

"We're pleased to be able to demonstrate our commitment to providing our customers with more renewable energy by taking advantage of declining solar system prices and the land we own at Big Bend," TECO Energy president Gordon Gillette said in a statement. TECO owns Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas System.

Scott McIntyre, CEO of Solar Energy Management, LLC, commended the project but said the Tampa Bay region and Florida are still far behind the solar curve. He called 25 megawatts "miniscule" compared to the demand for solar energy.

A 25 megawatt solar project could power up to 3,500 homes.

"Florida is woefully lacking," he said, noting that the state with the most solar radiant energy east of the Mississippi ranks 18th nationally in solar power implementation.

In the Panhandle, regulators recently blessed a plan to build 120 megawatts of solar capacity on military installations including Eglin Air Force Base.

This is Tampa Electric's biggest foray into solar yet, but the utility still generates most of its power using coal.

The company said that for the most recent 12-month period ending in June, 54 percent of its power came from coal, 41 percent from natural gas and oil, and 5 percent from other utilities. In 2014, by comparison, North Carolina's Duke Energy used a mix of 66 percent natural gas, 31 percent coal and 3 percent renewables to power its Florida customers.

"It's an effort to embrace renewables," said TECO Energy communications manager Martha Monfried. "We're becoming less and less dependent on coal."

It's not bad business, either.

"As the price of solar continues to go down this has really penciled out for us and it seemed to make sense at this scale," Monfried said. That, coupled with building the solar project on property the company already owns, was key to the Big Bend project's feasibility.

The company did not disclose how much it will cost to build the project. But it included that cost in stating that it will have spent a total of $50 million on solar energy since 2000.

The solar announcement came a day after the Obama administration released its new "Clean Power Plan" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the nation's coal-burning plants. Monfried said the new emissions standards, which aim to stymie the use of coal, are worrisome.

"We're concerned about timing and potential customer impact," she said. "It's reasonable to expect these regulations will increase the cost of electricity in the future."

Power plants moving off of coal could cause a spike in the price of gas, McIntyre warned, demonstrating the need for a diversified energy policy.

"The bottom line is that solar power works here in Florida and it works on a utility scale," said McIntyre, who is also president of the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy. "I applaud TECO for doing all these things but there's a reason — it makes economic sense on a utility scale and a commercial scale."

But, he said, if Florida's laws were different, the state's fledgling solar industry could employ tens of thousands of workers. McIntyre is one of the solar advocates pushing for an amendment to the Florida Constitution that would end the ban on the private generation and sale of solar power. The amendment is opposed by the state's utilities.

Monfried said Tampa Electric cannot yet say how the new solar array will impact the future rates that customers will pay for power.

"Although energy from the sun is free and the costs for solar systems keep going down, it's too early to predict how Tampa Electric's investment in additional solar generation will impact overall rates," she said.

The Big Bend project would be the second solar project recently undertaken by Tampa Electric. The first is under construction at Tampa International Airport on top of its south economy parking garage and is expected to generate two megawatts.

Tampa Bay's other solar installations include two Pinellas projects: the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center, which generates 1.8 megawatts; and the 1.5 megawatt array at Great Bay Distributors. The solar panels at the Tampa Ikea store generate 1.19 megawatts.

The parcel where Tampa Electric plans to build the 25-megawatt solar array was the site of a coal-fired power plant that 15 years ago got TECO in trouble with the Environmental Protection Agency for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Anne Steele at or (813) 226-3400. Follow @annemariesteele.

Tampa Electric to build largest solar array in Tampa Bay 08/04/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 4, 2015 10:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Last orca calf born in captivity at a SeaWorld park dies


    ORLANDO — The last killer whale born in captivity under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program died Monday at the company's San Antonio, Texas, park, SeaWorld said.

    Thet orca Takara helps guide her newborn, Kyara, to the water's surface at SeaWorld San Antonio in San Antonio, Texas, in April. Kyara was the final killer whale born under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program. The Orlando-based company says 3-month-old Kyara died Monday. [Chris Gotshall/SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment via AP]
  2. Miami woman, 74, admits to voter fraud. Does jail await, or will she go free?

    State Roundup

    MIAMI — An 74-year-old woman pleaded guilty Monday to filling out other people's mail-in ballots while working at Miami-Dade's elections department.

    Gladys Coego
  3. Bigger ships carry Georgia ports to record cargo volumes

    Economic Development

    SAVANNAH, Ga. — Bigger ships arriving through an expanded Panama Canal pushed cargo volumes at Georgia's seaports to record levels in fiscal 2017, the Georgia Ports Authority announced Monday.

    The Port of Savannah moved a record 3.85 million container units in fiscal 2017, the state said, benefiting from the larger ships that can now pass through an expanded Panama Canal.
  4. Dragon ride in Harry Potter section of Universal closing for new themed ride


    Universal Orlando announced Monday that it will close Dragon Challenge for a new "highly themed" Harry Potter ride to open in 2019 — sending wizard fans into a guessing game with hopes for a Floo Powder Network or the maze from the Triwizard Tournament.

    Universal Orlando announced Monday that it will close Dragon Challenge on Sept. 5 for a new "highly themed" Harry Potter ride to open in 2019. The ride, originally the Dueling Dragons roller coaster, was renamed and incorporated into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter when the hugely popular area opened in 2010.
  5. Would you let your company implant a chip in you?

    Working Life

    Would you ask an employee to get a chip implanted in her hand? Sounds invasive and intrusive. But come Aug. 1, one company in Wisconsin will be giving it a try.

    Three Square Market - a developer of software used in vending machines - is offering all of its employees the option to get a microchip implanted between the thumb and forefinger. [Photo from video]