Solar power sites that would supply Newberry with renewable energy are set for construction in 2023.
In Dec. 2019, the Newberry City Commission explored solar energy ideas. A partnership between Newberry, the Florida Municipal Solar Project and 15 other Florida cities soon followed.
The FMPA’s solar plan is split into phases. Newberry’s power comes from phase two of the plan, which is in development by the solar power company Origis Energy.
Origis plans to build two sites in Putnam County and Alachua County. The Alachua County site is about 15 miles southeast of Newberry.
During phase two, Newberry will receive 1 megawatt of power from the two 74.9 megawatt solar farms, according to Ryan Dumas, public relations specialist at FMPA. One megawatt serves around 200 Florida residents, Dumas said.
The remaining 148.8 megawatts will be distributed across 11 other Florida cities. Construction is expected to begin in 2023 and conclude that same year, according to Dumas.
There are no up-front fees involved in the solar power agreement, as Newberry only pays a percentage based on its energy share.
“We pledged to purchase the equivalent amount of energy that it costs us to run all of those utilities that the city operates,” said Tim Marden, who has served on the Newberry city commission for eight years.
Barry Jacobson, president of Solar Impact in Gainesville, estimates a 1-megawatt solar panel system costs $1.3 million to install, so the partnership enables Newberry to avoid the start-up costs of solar power while enjoying its significant long-term savings.
A typical home system could cost between $15,000 to $30,000, but over the long run Jacobson considers solar power to be one of the cheapest energy sources available.
Jonathan Scheffe, who has been an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Florida for six years, added that location affects prices.
“Solar energy in the state of Florida is going to be a lot cheaper than solar energy in the state of Maine, simply because there’s more sunlight,” Scheffe said.
Access to diverse energy sources is essential for cities, specifically to protect against shifting prices across energy sectors, Marden explained.
“For instance, if you were solely relying on natural gas, the prices to your user, your citizen or your customer is going to skyrocket,” Marden said, referring to the market volatility of traditional energy sources.
The city’s goal is to find a balance. Solar power provides cost stability compared to other energy sources like natural gas prices and coal, Scheffe said.
In June, as part of phase one, the FMPA completed the Harmony Solar Energy Center and the Taylor Creek Solar Energy Center, with a third site still in progress. Cities like Ocala are offering subscriptions, Dumas said, giving locals the option to choose solar power. It is yet to be determined if Newberry will do the same.
Below: Barry Jacobson, president of Solar Impact in Gainesville, explains how basic solar panels work and dives into the ever-changing solar power tax credits. (Jessica James/WUFT News)