EGLIN AFB — One year after Gulf Power joined with Eglin Air Force Base and Naval Air Station Pensacola to install the first panels on the largest solar arrays in Florida, the utility company is on its way to providing solar-generated electricity to 18,000 homes in Northwest Florida.
The Gulf Coast Solar Center comprises some 1.5 million solar panels installed on the Eglin reservation and at two airfields at NAS Pensacola. The three installations were tied into the electrical power grid last spring.
“In the months since the three fields went online, they’ve been harnessing enough sun energy to be on track to meet our generating expectations to power roughly 18,000 homes annually across Northwest Florida,” Gulf Power spokesman Rick DelaHaya said in a news release.
“Our latest data shows we’re well on our way, despite the stormy weather we experienced last summer and fall," DelaHaya added.
Clouds and fog can impede solar generation.
The three fields together are the largest solar project east of the Mississippi River, with a generating capacity of 120 megawatts. Using solar-generated electricity has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by 139,000 tons per year, according to the Gulf Power release.
Bringing the Gulf Coast Solar Center online further diversifies Gulf Power’s energy portfolio. The three solar arrays join a project at the Perdido Landfill in Escambia County that uses landfill gas to generate electricity. Gulf Power also has two wind-generated electricity projects in Oklahoma. The landfill project produces more than 177 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy, and the wind farms are producing enough energy to power more than 77,540 homes per year, according to Gulf Power.
Beyond that, the projects are giving Gulf Power employees an opportunity to learn about the company's widening energy portfolio. Last year, for example, six technicians from Plant Crist, a coal-fired electrical generation plant in Pensacola, worked at the three solar fields. They provided weekly reports to Gulf Power on construction progress and served as liaisons between various construction groups.
“Their skill sets were a perfect fit for working on the solar facility construction,” DelaHaya said. “Even though they’ve returned to their jobs at Plant Crist, their solar experience adds to our team of renewable experts who blazed the solar trail for Gulf Power."
Gulf Power, part of Atlanta-based Southern Company, is an investor-owned energy provider. It serves more than 460,000 customers in eight Northwest Florida counties.