Florida’s major electric utilities plan to develop over 13,000 MW of new solar generation across the state over the next decade, according to a 2021 review of ten-year site plans published by the Florida Public Service Commission. While this is a significant development, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Each MW of commercial solar takes approximately 5-10 acres of land, which means our utilities will convert 100-200 square miles of Florida land into fenced commercial solar facilities.
Large-scale solar facilities can be disruptive to the landscape and result in habitat constriction. A recent study by UCF researchers published this January has pointed out that commercial-scale solar facilities impact the ranges of endangered species such as the Florida panther. Mixed rural-residential communities across the state have already risen in opposition to major commercial solar developments in their mixed rural-residential communities due to the anticipated impacts of these projects on community character, customarily used lands, and natural resources.
FCV is delighted that two bills meant to address the issue of responsible siting passed their committees unanimously this week.
SB 1562 by Senator Loranne Ausley (D-Tallahassee) would be a vital first step towards establishing incentives for development in less impactful locations. The bill would direct DEP and FDACS to study viable brownfield and landfill sites for solar development. The EPA has identified over 8,500 Brownfields, superfund sites, and otherwise contaminated sites within Florida, which may serve as promising sites for commercial solar development. While the work done by the EPA is handy, our DEP and FDACS could significantly augment its utility for planners, the public, representatives of utilities, and other entities with a substantial interest in the development of renewable energy.
SB 1678 by Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) would develop an energy justice task force to determine how our state can build its energy infrastructure in a manner that centers the needs of the environment and historically marginalized communities. Members of the task force would include an environmental justice expert, electrical workers, utility industry liaisons, and four members from minority, underserved, rural, or low-income communities. The President of the Florida Senate and Speaker of the Florida House also each get a pick. Advocacy for this bill is being led by our friends at the St. Peter St. Paul Community Council, an African American community organization in Archer, Florida. The SPSPCC recently exerted their autonomy to resist the development of a solar facility in the heart of their historic community.