Tallahassee’s energy future is bright
Looking forward to 2018
By Reese Goad
Special to the Outlook
2018 will be a milestone year for Tallahassee on the path to a renewable energy future. This week, our community’s first Solar Farm became fully operational. This project taps into our most abundant renewable energy source.
Approximately 250 homes and businesses in Tallahassee already have solar panels on their roofs. Combined, they produce approximately 2 Megawatts (MW) of energy. A couple of years ago, the City and community stakeholders discussed how to greatly increase solar energy production in Tallahassee. There were lots of issues to consider – the environment, technology, and the impact on electric rates, among other items. Around that time, the price and viability of large scale solar was reaching a new plateau. Experts in the City Electric Utility took note. Soon, the plan for the City’s first Solar Farm was born. The result is better than expected.
Origis Energy, a private U.S. company with projects across the nation, will own and operate the facility on behalf of the City. It hired 185 of the 223 crew members from the Tallahassee area to assist with construction, which is now complete. The new farm features more than 200,000 thin-film solar panels, has 20 MW of capacity and can produce 37 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy a year. That’s enough to power 3,400 homes and reduce our carbon dioxide footprint by 18,000 tons each year.
This is not the first chapter in Tallahassee’s journey to a sustainable future. Over the last 10 years, the City introduced and enhanced services that encourage energy and water conservation through programs like energy loans, which is unique in Florida, and Neighborhood REACH, a nationally recognized program that began in 2010. The City Commission has provided clear direction, the community has strongly supported this movement, and it is working. Today, customers are using 11 percent less electricity and 23 percent less water than they were in 2007.
In addition, recycling is now second nature for each of us. Curbside recycling with 4,000 small bins began in 1988, the first comprehensive Recycle America program in Florida. Today, overflowing 64-gallon green cans line the curb each week in every neighborhood. Marpan Recycling, a Tallahassee-based company, has facilitated the move to single-stream recycling, eliminating the need to separate paper and plastic. It also operates a recycling facility for construction and debris material. More than 81,000 tons of recycling material is processed by Marpan annually. Just by recycling, our community helps save 195 million kWh of electricity per year, enough to power about 18,000 Tallahassee homes.
Looking forward enthusiastically, planning for the second Solar Farm is already underway. It will be twice as large as the first and is expected to be completed in 2019. The new Solar Farms will produce more than 100 million kWh of electricity each year and will more than power our new energy demands for our growing community. Finally, the City has begun exploring how we can meet all of our energy needs with renewables within the next two decades.
This is an enormous task, but if history is telling, Tallahassee will lead the way.