BROOKSVILLE — A facility that will turn the power of the sun into electricity could be coming to the Suncoast.
On March 7, the board of trustees of Florida A&M University approved an agreement with Duke Energy Florida that gives the investor owned utility a 25-year lease on land the Tallahassee-based school has near Brooksville.
If the project moves forward, the Duke Energy solar facility would be created on between 600 and 800 acres at FAMU’s Brooksville Agricultural and Environmental Research Station, which is on Chinsegut Hill Road. There will be some 270,000 tracking solar panels at the facility at BAERS.
St. Petersburg-based Duke Energy Florida says it plans to generate nearly 75 megawatts of electricity at what will be known as its Rattler Solar Power Plant. The plant at BAERS takes its name from the mascot of the historically black university in the state capitol.
The plant would also further research into the development and research of solar technologies, plant operations and workforce expansion, Duke Energy said in a news release.
In addition to a long-term revenue stream for BAERS, FAMU will get training and educational opportunities for its students and members of the local community.
“FAMU strives to be a good neighbor at all times, and like residents of Brooksville and Hernando County, we are concerned about the sustainability of the planet,” said Fred Gainous, a Tallahassee native who is a FAMU professor and director of BAERS. “This initiative allows us to use the natural energy source of the sun to power homes, instead of using resources that can be depleted.”
Gainous, a FAMU graduate, is a former vice president of St. Petersburg College.
“Making this land available to Duke Energy allows FAMU to accomplish two central objectives: generating revenue for student education and offering the county an alternative source of clean energy,” said FAMU President Larry Robinson. “We look forward to a long and healthy partnership with Duke Energy.”
Once operational, the facility can provide electricity for approximately 23,000 average-sized homes at peak production. All the electricity created from the project will be fed onto the Duke Energy electric grid and be delivered to homes, businesses, schools, places of worship and other customers in the area, according to the utility.
Tamara Waldmann, Duke Energy Florida director of distributed generation strategy, said the utility is pleased with the FAMU trustees’ approval of the lease agreement.
“This specific vote will allow Duke Energy to perform a critical next step, which is the evaluation of the FAMU property to determine if the conditions are indeed suitable for solar energy,” Waldmann said. “Meanwhile, Duke Energy is engaging with Hernando County, and we will be engaging community leaders and residents in the coming weeks.”
The investment will also give Duke Energy the ability to continue exploring innovative, clean energy opportunities with various community partners and expand cost effective, flexible, and dependable utility owned solar for the benefit of all our customers, it said.
Waldmann said the Brooksville solar power plant is part of Duke Energy’s strategic, long-range plan to build or acquire 700 megawatts of solar energy in Florida through 2022.
“Equally important, it supports FAMU and their commitment to renewables, agriculture and sustainability. Building solar power plants in support of our customers and communities is part of our ongoing work to diversify our Company’s resources to offer dependable, emission-free, and smarter energy solutions that our customers value,” said Waldmann.
The agreement will include a due diligence period for site investigation and permitting prior to building a solar project at BAERS.