One year ago, Gulf Power joined its military partners at Eglin Air Force Base and Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Pensacola Naval Air Station in a historic milestone — installing the first panels on the largest solar photovoltaic arrays in Florida.
The Gulf Coast Solar Center, made up of approximately 1.5 million solar panels constructed on three Department of Defense facilities — NAS Pensacola’s Saufley Field, NAS Whiting’s Holley Field and Eglin Air Force Base Reservation — began feeding the grid last summer, going online one at a time in May, June and July.
“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,” said Kimberly Blair, Gulf Power spokesperson. “Our latest data shows we’re well on our way, despite the stormy weather we experienced last summer and fall. Cloudy, foggy days can impede solar generation.”
The three fields combined are the largest solar project east of the Mississippi and have a generating capacity of 120 megawatts of electricity, and the potential to reduce carbon emissions by 139,000 tons per year.
“These solar projects also further diversify Gulf Power’s energy portfolio and support the mission to provide safe, affordable and reliable energy to our customers throughout Northwest Florida,” Blair said. “Counting the three fields, Gulf Power has a total of seven renewable energy sources including two wind projects in Oklahoma and the Perdido Landfill Gas-to-Energy plant, all of which are contributing to our carbon emission reduction of 57.5 percent over the last decade.”
Moreover, the wind farms are producing enough energy to power approximately 77,540 homes per year. The Landfill Gas-to-Energy plant produces more than 177 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy, while eliminating 3.64 billion cubic feet of methane gas from the environment since January 2017.
“In addition to providing our customers solar energy to our energy mix, this project also provided Gulf Power a great opportunity to cross train our employees who work in the coal and natural gas generation side of our business in the renewable side,” Blair said.
Six Plant Crist electrician and Instrument & Control technicians received a full immersion learning experience working at the three solar fields, mostly in 2017. While Coronal Energy, powered by Panasonic, constructed the three fields, the employees served as observers, providing weekly reports to Gulf Power on the progress of construction and serving as liaisons between various construction groups.
“Their skill sets were a perfect fit for working on the solar facility construction,” Blair 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. Their experiences will be invaluable as we research future photovoltaic solar projects to add to our system, and possibly building our own solar project.”