Arcadia shines for Obama
Oct 28, 2009 -
By JAMES A. JONES JR.
On a former cattle pasture north of Arcadia, President Barack Obama commissioned the largest photovoltaic solar array in the United States.
"With the flip of a switch, Florida Power and Light has taken a step which could help begin weening the United States away from dependence on fossil fuel while introducing new jobs and technology for the future," Obama said Tuesday to a invited audience of about 100 seated in front of the solar array.
FPL installed 90,000 solar panels on 180 acres, enough to provide power to about 3,000 homes — almost all of Arcadia.
The panels face east to catch the rays of the rising sun, then turn to track the sun throughout the day.
Costing $152 million, the facility converts solar energy into direct current — like that produced by a battery — and feeds it to trailers in the solar park, which convert it into alternating current used in homes and businesses. The power is transmitted underground to the electric grid for distribution to consumers.
Obama likened the arrival of alternative energy technology to the arrival of the interstate highway system under President Dwight Eisenhower, which revolutionized road travel in the United States.
That move, he noted, made Americans’ lives easier and helped the U.S. economy to grow.
"Now it’s time to make the same kind of investment in the way our economy travels — to build a clean energy superhighway that can take the renewable power generated in places like DeSoto and deliver it to the American people in the most affordable and efficient way possible," Obama said.
The president announced that, under the Recovery Act, his administration is making the largest-ever investment in a "smarter, stronger and more secure electric grid."
The investment will be made in the form of 100 grants totaling $3.4 billion to private companies, utilities, cities and others that have filed plans to install smart grid technology around the country.
FPL is set to receive $200 million of that money to install 2.6 million "smart meters" and other technology designed to cut energy costs for customers.
Cabinet members will fan out across the United States to discuss the winning proposals, which will help replace century-old technology that is inefficient and wastes too much energy, Obama said.
Smart meters will allow consumers to monitor and adjust their electric consumption on an hourly, daily or weekly basis. Through smart-grid technology, utilities will be better able to monitor the system and correct outages more quickly, Obama said.
The DeSoto County solar project can be expanded 12-fold, or up to 1 million solar panels capable of producing 300 megawatts of power, making it the largest in the world. The solar field consumes no power or water and emits no pollutants.
But it is not a "silver bullet" for America’s energy needs.
Obama said America’s future energy needs will be met with plug-in hybrid cars, charged at night because smart meters tell the consumer that power is cheaper then; by clean coal technology; safe nuclear power; and alternative fuel sources such as wind and solar.
"So we’re on the cusp of this new energy future," Obama said, adding that the future holds the promise of new good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, called the opening of the Arcadia power plant "incredibly significant and very important for the state of Florida."
She called solar energy clean, affordable and the wave of the future.
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, did not attend the commissioning, an aide said, because he needed to be in Washington to vote on legislation.
But Buchanan did issue a statement: "I support solar and other alternative fuels as part of a balanced energy plan. Florida is among the nation’s leaders in developing these alternative energy sources. This project will help meet our nation’s energy needs, protect the environment and create jobs right here in our backyard."
Lew Hay, CEO of the FPL Group, and Greg Bove, FPL construction manager, gave the shirt-sleeved Obama a quick tour of the solar field before the president made remarks lasting about 20 minutes. At one point, the three men disappeared into a field of panels, and then stepped up on a platform, their heads popping up above the panels.
"This is a grand day for the state of Florida," Hay said in introducing Obama.
State Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, who supported alternative energy production during the most recent Florida legislative session, said if FPL is able to expand the plant, the region should be able to attract a major photovoltaic manufacturer, which could lead to the creation of more jobs.
Afterwards, Elton Langford, chairman of the DeSoto County Commission, who makes his living as a contract cowboy, said his county worked with FPL to make the solar project a reality.
"We worked with them as hard as we could to get this project done. It’s a good, clean project and a boost to the county’s economy," said Langford, a ninth-generation Floridian. "Everybody is excited about it. It puts DeSoto County on the map."