Powering The Sunshine State’s Capital

The world’s largest airport solar facility could power more than 9,500 homes

The capital of the Sunshine State, Tallahassee, Fla., just became more sustainable with the addition of another solar farm—Tallahassee Solar II at the Tallahassee International Airport. The 320-acre, 42-megawatt (MWac, MW) solar farm completed in January is the second phase of the City of Tallahassee’s sustainability and clean energy generation project at the Airport. The first phase, Tallahassee Solar I, is a 120-acre, 20 MWac solar farm that was completed in 2017. Together, the two solar farms bring the City’s total solar power generation to 62 megawatts.

The new Tallahassee Solar II alone is the size of 242 football fields and is able to power more than 9500 homes. It is good news for residential, small- and medium-sized commercial customers, as they are able to choose a portion of their electric bill to come from solar energy at the following rates: 25, 50 and 100 percent. According to the City’s website, “customers who choose to purchase energy at the solar rate will pay 5 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) in lieu of the cost of natural gas; this rate will remain fixed until September 30, 2037.” The solar rate is about half the price of Florida’s non- renewable energy.

Courtesy of the City of Tallahassee

By 2050, Tallahassee will be powered with solely renewable energy, according to the Clean Energy Resolution, which was adopted by the City Commission in February 2019. One of the markers identified in the resolution was to have all City facilities using 100 percent renewable energy no later than 2035.

Even before the addition of the 20 MW solar project and now the 42 MW project, the City’s total emissions were below those set by the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Climate Accords,” said Ben Cowart, Manager Alternative Energy of the City of Tallahassee Electric. “Adding solar to our generation capabilities brings fuel diversity and price certainty to the City Electric Utility and its customers.”

Not only does this project contribute to the fulfillment of the City’s sustainability plans, the project also created opportunities for jobs and employment for locals.

“During construction, the project provided more than 300 jobs, with a peak employment of approximately 200 on site. The construction companies relied heavily on hiring and training local talent,” said ’s Jason Thomas, Director of Development at Origis Energy, who was responsible for design, permitting, and project development.

On top of savings and delivering clean energy, the solar farm makes for a spectacular view. “Many passengers have remarked that they enjoy seeing our solar facility upon descending into Tallahassee,” said David Pollard, Director of Aviation at Tallahassee International Airport. “They’re often surprised at its size. Seeing a bird’s eye view of the world’s largest airport solar facility makes for a unique travel experience.”

At the urging of residents, the Tallahassee City Commission took bold steps in embracing solar by reserving a portion of the solar facility’s energy output to serve all City buildings. This decision made Tallahassee the first public power utility in Florida to power all its municipal buildings with solar energy, while also fulfilling one of the goal markers identified in the Clean Energy Resolution.

“As the capital city of the Sunshine State, we are dedicated to preserving our community’s natural resources, and we are proud to be the first of 33 public power utilities in Florida to power 100 percent of our City buildings with solar energy,” said John Dailey, Mayor of Tallahassee.

Courtesy of the City of Tallahassee

The dynamic of this project played a huge role in its completion. Origis Technics was the contractor and engineer, while Halff Associates acted as both primary consultants and engineers. Other consultants included Michael Baker International Inc., Cardno, and Beta Engineering. The builder of the project was Blattner Energy Inc. The project, as with Tallahassee Solar I, will be operated and managed by Origis Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Origis Energy.

“There were multiple consultants, contractors and entities that were working on the surveys, EA, design and permitting phases of the project,” said Mariben Andersen, Department Manager – Environmental at Michael Baker International, who acted as the Environmental Assessment and City of Tallahassee Permitting and Program Manager. ‘”It was critical to have programming for the various phases and elements of the project be cohesive, so we scheduled several meetings throughout the project and updated an overall project schedule so that tasks that affect or are necessary for the next steps were identified and the consultants working on them were aware of the importance of meeting their deadlines.”

Building the world’s largest airport-based solar farm doesn’t come without challenges. The 42 MWac photovoltaic solar energy facility required approximately 130,000 First Solar Series 6 thin film panels on a fixed-tilt racking system. There were lots of moving parts, a demanding schedule, and unexpected environmental and design complications.

For example, although the project started in May 2018, the schedule was compressed because the Airport Master Plan was being updated and the project was not yet depicted in the

Airport Layout Plan (ALP), so beginning of the works had to be postponed to November 2018 for the FAA National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

During the design of the project, the Michael Baker International team found out that the access road would have to be widened and strengthened to accommodate construction equipment, so they quickly mobilized to complete the surveys necessary to comply with NEPA and City Land Development Code.

“Due to the project timing and compressed schedule, several portions of the project had to be done simultaneously rather than sequentially,” Cowart said. “This, as well as site restrictions, created challenges, but the prime contractor rose to the occasion. The construction of the new electrical substation and taps to the 230 KV transmission lines were completed on time and within budget.”

Since Tallahassee Solar II was completed before the outburst of the COVID-19, the pandemic did not affect the construction. However, for City utility customers experiencing financial hardship due to the outbreak of coronavirus, including participants in Tallahassee Solar, the City of Tallahassee recently rolled out a Utility Relief Program. This program allows customers with an option to defer payment of their current monthly bill for water, sewer, electric and natural gas and other utility charges until this fall.

As the City of Tallahassee continues to move toward its energy goal, the Tallahassee Solar II will most certainly be a major contributing factor. And as for execution of the project, which had a fair share of obstacles, exemplified teamwork, with constant communication and effective planning and designing on all fronts by those involved.

Courtesy of the Tallahassee Democrat

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