2022 Florida Legislative Session: Floating Solar Arrays

2022 Florida Legislative Session: Floating Solar Arrays

“A floating solar array on a pond in Orlando. Florida has thousands of lakes and ponds where floating panels could be used”. Photo: Paul Hennessy, SOPA Images, ZUMA Press in WallStreet Journal

SB 1338/HB 1411
State requirement for amendments to local land regulations to promote floating solar panels

Backgrounder: “Where to put solar panels? How about on the water?”

“Floating solar panels are still a small part of the energy mix. But they have some advantages over land-based systems.

As befits its location in the Sunshine State, Orlando International Airport looked at installing solar panels on its property to help it reduce its electricity costs. But ultimately it decided not to commit land for such a purpose.

The airport’s land is too precious to use it for solar development, says Mark Birkebak, director of engineering for the airport.

Its water, however, proved to be a different matter. In December [2020], the Orlando Airport and the city’s main power provider rolled out floating solar panels on one of several ponds on airport property. Now, almost a year in, the water-based array provides energy equal to what 14 homes would consume, and the airport earns credits for the energy it pumps back into the grid.

As an extra flourish, Mr. Birkebak says, the panels are arranged in a stylized ‘O’—the Orlando airport emblem—illuminated at night by LED lighting and visible to passengers on jets and trams.

‘You can add a little artsy-ness to this and still have a great benefit,’ Mr. Birkebak says…

The number of solar-energy installations grew 23% world-wide in 2020, according to an International Energy Agency report, and are expected to keep growing globally through 2022 as power providers continue to fulfill mandates to add renewables to their energy mix. A small but increasing portion of that growth is expected to come from water-based solar arrays.

While land-based panels are the more popular choice for solar by far, largely due to higher installation costs for water-based systems, developers and scientists increasingly agree there are situations in which water-based arrays have advantages.

Continuing to find new places to accommodate solar panels is becoming more of a challenge. In the U.S. and elsewhere, opposition has been voiced by residents in some communities where large solar arrays have been proposed—by farmers who don’t want to convert food-crop land to solar farms, and by conservationists who don’t want forests cleared for panels.”

“Mayor Buddy Dyer walks past a floating solar array at Orlando Airport after a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the installation last December.”
Photo: Joe Burbank,Associated Press

“Floating solar arrays, by deploying their panels on man-made reservoirs or lakes that aren’t used for recreation, can alleviate such concerns. The state of Florida, for instance, has thousands of lakes and ponds where floating panels could be used…

In addition to overcoming land-related issues, it is also possible that water, due to its cooling effects, could make solar panels work more efficiently. A study by Brazilian scientists published by IET Renewable Power Generation found that floating arrays generate as much as 12.5% more electricity than ground or rooftop solar installations. The panels can also slow evaporation, protecting essential water sources already affected by increased demand and climate change…

Asia is expected to account for more than 80% of floating solar through 2026, Europe an estimated 7% to 10%, and the U.S. 1% to 2%…

Many of the bodies of water highlighted in the NREL study were in regions with high electricity rates and high land prices. In such areas, floating solar, despite its higher installation costs, could still be the cheaper solar option, in part by removing the need for expensive land purchases.

To be sure, water-based solar does have some disadvantages, such as higher installation costs due to the need for floats, moorings and waterproof electrical components. Such items tend to cancel out any savings that water-based arrays might offer in terms of requiring no earthmoving or vegetation removal, says Evan Riley, chief executive and founder of White Pine Renewables, a company that has installed both floating solar and land-based systems.

Because of its higher installation costs, developers of floating solar tend to target reservoirs that already host hydropower and have connections to the grid in place.

‘For commercial or industrial-size floating solar, access to transmission can easily make or break a project,’ says NREL’s Mr. Macknick.

Another disadvantage for floating panels is their inability—so far—to track the sun’s movement. In the U.S., most ground-mounted solar panels are installed on trackers that allow the panels to turn and absorb the sun’s rays at the most favorable angle throughout the day. This isn’t possible yet for floating solar. So, despite having better efficiency, floating solar panels can’t produce as much energy as trackers allow.

‘We either need a technological innovation so that the panels can track the sun while floating,’ Mr. Riley says, or floating solar will have to ‘take off in markets where it doesn’t have to compete with a ground-mounted tracker.’…

‘We just now have the price of solar panels low enough that the business case is really getting to pick up.’ Mr. Lehner says. ‘It’s just a matter of time that floating solar will conquer many of these markets.'”

— Jackie Snow, WallStreet Journal

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Florida’s floating solar bills

“SB 1338 (Diaz) and HB 1411 (Salzman) would require that a floating solar facility be a permitted use in the appropriate land use category in each local government’s comprehensive plan. Each local government would be required to amend its land development regulations to promote the expanded use of floating solar facilities.

Senate referrals: Regulated Industries (approved 2/1); Community Affairs (approved 2/8); Rules (approved 2/15)

House referrals: Tourism, Infrastructure & Energy Subcommittee (approved 1/25); Local Administration & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee (approved 2/7); Commerce Committee (approved 2/17).  PASSED HOUSE 2/24 PASSED SENATE 3/2″

From 1000 Friends of Florida

Large install example: “Singapore’s floating solar farm on the Tengeh Reservoir”

Large install example: “Singapore’s floating solar farm on the Tengeh Reservoir”

Photo: Sembcorp Industries in Euronews.green

Background article published 2021:
“Singapore’s floating solar farm on the Tengeh Reservoir has officially been opened.

Made up of 122,000 solar panels spanning 45 hectares, it is roughly equivalent to the size of 45 football fields. The 60 megawatt-peak solar photovoltaic (PV) farm is now officially one of the largest operational inland floating solar PV systems in the world.

The solar farm, installed by Sembcorp Industries, was deployed as part of Singapore’s goal to quadruple solar energy capabilities by 2025, in a bid to help the country do its part to tackle the global climate crisis.

Read article about large scale project in Euronews.green

Giant solar farms: Floridians concerned about visual impact, ecology and rural life “Tampa Electric faces opposition from Pasco residents over solar panel project”

Giant solar farms: Floridians concerned about visual impact, ecology and rural life “Tampa Electric faces opposition from Pasco residents over solar panel project”

Photo: Tampa Electric
“Tampa Electric’s solar panel project is facing pushback from residents in Pasco County, as homeowners have filed lawsuits against the installation of the facility.

The project, ‘Mountain View Solar,’ would be constructed on 350 acres of land and would include 470,000 solar panels. It is part of Tampa Electric’s plan to add six million solar panels in ten new locations by 2021.

The solar facility would be built alongside Blanton Road in Dade City. Nearby residents have expressed their opposition to the project with concerns that the plant would negatively affect the surrounding area, including animal habitats.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that Pasco homeowner Sandra Noble has filed two legal claims against Tampa Electric. The planned location of the solar field borders her property.

Noble ‘will be significantly and adversely affected’ by the county decision ‘based on her interest in her property, in maintaining and protecting existing nature, use density and intensity of use of the rural property, health and safety, densities and intensities of development and compatibility of adjacent land uses,’ her claim stated…”

— Jessica Barron, WUSF
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Hernando County: “They moved to the country to escape development. Now Duke Energy wants to build a solar farm next door.”

Hernando County: “They moved to the country to escape development. Now Duke Energy wants to build a solar farm next door.”

Photo: Douglas R. Clifford, Tampa Bay Times

“Residents have complained that the 800-acre project will be ugly and hurt property values.”
“The sky catches fire out near Daly Road, above the open fields east of the yellow house Acy and Christine Akridge bought nearly a decade ago. They’d almost given up looking for a quiet place for their retirement years when they found it: a shell that had spent years in foreclosure and as a party house for local kids. But the barn was good, Christine thought, and the view was great.
They reshaped it into a home, washing their dishes in the laundry room sink while they built a kitchen. The horses moved into the barn. And Christine flooded her Facebook wall with pictures of the fiery skies at sunrise and sunset.

Now change may come to the fields in pursuit of that sun, and the Akridges and their neighbors fear it will intrude on the quiet lives they’ve built in this pastoral pocket of northeast Hernando County. Trustees of Florida A&M University will vote Thursday on whether to approve a proposed deal to let Duke Energy build an 800-acre solar energy farm across the road from the Akridges’ home.

The deal would make money for the university, which got the land in a 2015 transfer from the federal government. And proponents see it as a small, but necessary push in the battle to slow climate change.

But like other projects in rural central Florida, it’s drawing ire from residents, who see it as encroaching on their lives. People who live near the Brooksville site said they haven’t been contacted by the university; they found out about the solar farm idea through a newspaper report.

They fear it will drive down their property values, lead to disruptive glare and noise in their neighborhood and spoil their futures.

‘What was this all for?’ Christine, 62, wondered aloud as she stood in a neighbor’s yard recently, surveying her home and the fields across. ‘We can’t start over again…’

The cattle were still there 20 years ago, when Dan Kavouras and his wife moved onto the hill across the road, and a decade later, when the Akridges moved in. Florida A&M owned it by the time Josh Anderson, a 36-year-old real estate broker, moved onto the property next to the Akridges last year. But he read up on the land transfer and had the same good feeling his neighbors did.

The promise Florida A&M had made to keep it agricultural seemed to guarantee that industry or development wouldn’t intrude on them.

‘It’s almost like it was a safe haven around this property over here,’ Acy Akridge said.

They didn’t expect the federal government to define solar energy production as an agricultural use. That designation, granted by the Department of Agriculture, opened the door for Florida A&M to look for bidders for a solar farm…
…the residents of Daly Road fear the repercussions already have started.

Anderson bought his home just months ago. His wife is pregnant, the baby due in April, and he sees the house as an investment in his family’s future. But the possibility of the solar farm has made his property worth less than when he bought it, he said, and the value will continue to drop if the deal goes through.

He has a real estate term for this: ‘External obsolescence.’ It refers to something that’s outside a property, but makes the property worth less.

Or, as he put it: ‘I’m losing. I’m losing real, hard, green money.’

…Other residents will consider legal action to block the solar farm, just as residents in rural Pasco County have sued to stop a similar project by Tampa Electric Company.

One morning recently, the Akridges and Josh Anderson stood under the sprawling branches of the live oaks in Anderson’s front yard. Acy Akridge looked past two of the Andersons’ horses wandering across a field, to the open land across the road.

‘People paint pictures just for that right there,’ he said. ‘You tell me when someone painted a famous picture with panels in the background.'”

— Jack Evans,Tampa Bay Times
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“California’s biggest county could severely restrict solar energy projects”

“California’s biggest county could severely restrict solar energy projects”

Photo: Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times
“The county’s Board of Supervisors is slated to vote Thursday on a policy that would prohibit large renewable energy projects on much of the unincorporated private land governed by the county. The new restrictions would add to existing regulations that solar and wind developers say have made it difficult to build on federal land, which makes up the vast majority of the county’s 20,000 square miles.

As local residents have told the supervisors in public comments, the restrictions would protect their quality of life. Many locals say California should shift its focus from land-intensive solar farms to smaller installations on rooftops and parking lots. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that rooftop solar could meet 74% of California’s energy needs.”

— Sammy Roth, LA Times
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