Groundbreaking is set for Wednesday for a new partnership between Gulf Power Company and the U-S Navy, aimed at developing, generating, and distributing solar power.
Under a 37-year lease, Gulf Power will use almost 600 acres of property aboard NAS Pensacola, Whiting Field, and two outlying landing fields, Holly and Saufley. Natalie Smith at the utility says plans are to build two large generating facilities.
“Those are some of the details we have to work out, and figure out how much space would be needed,” said
Natalie Smith at the utility. “And we’ll be using a third party [Virginia-based] Coronal Development Services – they will actually build and maintain the facilities.”
When complete, the plants will look like your garden-variety solar farm – only bigger with a larger generating capacity. Smith says along with the Navy project, they’re also involved in similar work with the Air Force.
“It’s going to amass about 290 acres with approximately 657,000 solar panels,” said Capt. Keith Hoskins, Commanding Officer of NAS Pensacola. The project has its roots in the establishment by Sec. of the Navy Ray Mabus of the Renewable Energy Project Office in May of last year.
“That office helps the Navy enhance energy security on our installation, by bringing one gigawatt of renewable energy and procurement by the end of 2015,” said Hoskins.
Local bases involved in the project will not receive any of the solar power. No naval personnel or money will go into the project – so, what’s in it for the Navy? Hoskins says in-kind considerations in terms of energy security, such as burial of power lines aboard the base.
Meanwhile, Gulf Power is working on another project to develop clean, renewable energy from wind. “Project Kingfisher” was approved by the Public Service Commission earlier this year. Its 89 wind turbines could supply 180 megawatts — enough juice to power about 50,000 homes per year.
Gulf Power’s Natalie Smith says the development of solar and wind-generated electricity enables them to offer more fuel flexibility – adding green energy to the traditional coal and natural gas – with an eye on the bottom line and the power bill.
“That is the big piece of the puzzle there,” Smith said. “We want to provide renewable energy, we want to have a very diverse portfolio of generation. But it has to be affordable and reliable, which is why we still need coal and natural gas.”
The solar facilities are expected to be operational by December of next year. And, in case you’re wondering, Gulf Power customers' rates will not go up because of the new facilities.