LIVE OAK, Fla. — An 800-acre property that once grew timber alongside Interstate 10 in northeastern Suwannee County may soon sprout solar panels.

The Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners unanimously greenlighted Florida Power & Light Company’s proposed Echo River Solar Energy Facility that is expected to produce 74.5 MW of energy at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The property, which sits just north of I-10 and is bordered by Hogan Road to the north and east, is about five miles east of Live Oak.

“We are very excited about this project,” FPL Regional Manager Jim Bush said. “We think it’s a great thing for the county and the state as well as FPL.”

Jim Bush

FPL Regional Manager Jim Bush talks about the proposed Suwannee County solar facility.

FPL Project Manager Geoff West said the company has tripled its solar power generation the past two years from 300 MW to 900 MW and currently has four additional solar facilities under construction, including one nearby in Columbia County that would add an addition 300 MW.

The proposed Suwannee County facility would be put into operation in 2020 with construction beginning on the site in the second quarter of 2019.

It is part of FPL’s push to add 2,100 MW of solar energy in the next five years.

“That’s great for our customers because that saves them hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel costs,” West said, adding that the Echo River Facility would produce enough energy to power 15,000 homes.

One aspect of the Suwannee solar farm that would separate it from other recent additions to FPL’s solar portfolio would be the use of a tracker system instead of fixed panels.

West said the current plan is to implement the tracker system, one where the panels move east to west throughout the day to follow the sun and increase the energy produced.

“What’s neat about this technology is it senses any shading from other panels or trees and adjusts itself automatically to create the most efficient power,” West said.

West also told the board that the solar facilities are able to be adapted to the property they are built on.

With Rocky Creek running through the Suwannee County property, along with some other wetlands, FPL will construct the panels around these areas to limit the environmental impact.

“We have the ability to situate panels so we don’t impact wetlands or sensitive areas,” he said.

Following FPL’s presentation, Commissioner Clyde Fleming asked about the lifespan of the panels and project.

West said the degradation of the panels is taken into account when constructing the facility and even in 30 years the plant will continue to produce 74.5 MW of energy.

Commissioner Ronnie Richardson then expressed concern about reflection off the panels and any potential hazards that would create to the traffic on I-10.

West assured Richardson that would not be an issue.

“If our panels are reflecting light that means we’re not capturing it and converting it to electricity. We want to make sure that we’re converting as much sunlight as possible into electricity,” West said, adding that the panels have an anti-reflective coating on the glass as well as being dark in nature.

“They try to absorb as many spectrums of light as possible.”

West also told the board following a question from Commissioner Don Hale that even with recent legislation that exempts 80 percent of renewable energy facilities from ad valorem taxes, the remaining 20 percent as well as the change in land use for the facility should garner the county additional tax revenue.

Still, Branford resident Jim Ward had one issue with the proposed facility: its name.

“I don’t care for the name,” Ward said, adding he spent a portion of the presentation trying to figure out where the solar farm was located. “How about Rocky Creek? Suwannee County Facility? Something different besides Echo River. It doesn’t do much for me, I have to tell you.

“I’m just saying where … is Echo River?”

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