Talk about a great Earth Day present! Florida Power and Light and Kitson & Partners made a stunning announcement April 9, saying they plan to build the nation's first solar-powered city—a cluster of homes, offices and factories less than 20 miles from Fort Myers on Florida's Gulf Coast.
What a turnaround. Just two years ago, we were fighting FPL's proposal to build America's largest coal-fired power plant in Glades County, near the Everglades. We celebrated when the Florida Public Service Commission rejected FPL's plan, citing concern about global warming pollutants for the first time.
Now it looks like Florida could become the "Sunshine State" for real.
FPL plans a 75-megawatt solar photovoltaic array to help power the development. The solar plant is slated for Babcock Ranch, part of which the state bought several years ago and crafted as a mix of conservation lands and planned development.
FPL's plan to invest big in solar energy is proof that litigation moves the ball along. What we're seeing here is a real change in thinking.
Developer Syd Kitson told reporters the 45,000-resident solar city would be built on 17,000 acres in Charlotte and Lee counties, with more than half of the land set aside for nature preserves, agriculture and other open space.
Our hope is that FPL's solar plant in southwest Florida is the start of more solar power development for the state. We also hope it nudges officials to be more forward-thinking.
Right now, at the other end of the state, we're appealing the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation's ridiculous approval of what would be the first new coal plant built in Florida in well over a decade.
The coal-fired generator at the Seminole Power Plant in northeast Florida's Palatka is outdated and dirty technology, and it should have been rejected, just as FPL's giant Glades County coal plant was.
To us, the DEP's continued defense of this coal plant in northeast Florida stands in stark contrast to FPL's decision to move away from outdated energy technologies. It doesn't make sense.
Developer Kitson stold reporters that he envisions his Babcock Ranch development as a "a true living laboratory of the new-energy economy ... where innovative companies can design, build and use the renewable and efficient technologies that customers across the country and around the globe will need. Solar is just the first step," he said.
For those of us who have spent many Earth Days fighting against dirty power, it's a great first step.