In a sign that Big Solar is moving beyond the California desert, Florida utility FPL says it will spend $1.5 billion over the next seven years to build solar power plants in the Sunshine State. That includes a 300-megawatt solar power station using technology developed by Ausra, the Silicon Valley startup backed by green energy investor Vinod Khosla and venture capital powerhouse Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers.
“It has been widely believed that big solar power was economically viable in the U.S. only in the Southwest, and much of the institutionalized resistance to changing direction has come from the Southeast, an area thought to be renewables-poor,” Ausra executive vice president John O’Donnell told Green Wombat. “The FPL announcement lays down a marker that we can do renewables in the Southeast as well. Florida has perhaps the most at stake in climate change, with about 40 percent of its land mass due for submersion this century in the `business as usual case.’”
FPL (FPL) chairman Lewis Hayes echoed that sentiment. “Florida has much at stake with global warming,” he said in a statement. “FPL Group has evaluated Ausra’s new
solar thermal technology, and we view this breakthrough technology as a promising option to make solar energy an economically sound addition to our power generation going forward.”
The utility will first build a 10-megawatt solar power plant with Ausra’s solar thermal technology, which uses long flat mirrors to focus the sun’s rays on tubes of water suspended over the arrays. The superheated water creates steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine. FPL is veteran solar power operator and currently runs seven solar power plants built in California’s Mojave Desert in the 1980s.
Ausra and FPL did not announce any specific contract today, a sign that a final agreement has not been signed. Such a deal would be a big boost to Ausra, which also has been negotiating with California utility PG&E (PCG). Ausra chairman David Mills told Green Wombat the company will soon file a development application with the California Energy Commission to build a 175-megawatt solar power station. To date, PG&E and California utilities Southern California Edison (EIX) and San Diego Gas & Electric have signed deals to buy nearly 3 gigawatts of solar thermal electricity.
FPL also said it will spend $500 million to construct a smart metering network that will allow consumers to go online and monitor their electricity consumption in real time. The hope is that such a metering widget will encourage people to conserve electricity – and save money – by running energy-hogging appliances when demand is low.