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The Sunshine State this week moved one step closer toward capitalizing on its namesake and becoming one of the largest producers of solar energy in the country. Florida utility Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) said yesterday that it has broken ground on a 75-megawatt solar […]

The Sunshine State this week moved one step closer toward capitalizing on its namesake and becoming one of the largest producers of solar energy in the country. Florida utility Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) said yesterday that it has broken ground on a 75-megawatt solar thermal plant at the site of its existing Martin combined-cycle power plant. It is the first utility-scale solar plant in Florida, according to the company.

FPL actually has a long history of building and operating solar thermal plants; it operates those large solar electric generating systems (SEGS) in California’s Mojave Desert. While many utilities are choosing to partner with developers — whether it’s a startup like BrightSource or a huge company like Abengoa — to build and own solar thermal plants, FPL seems to prefer moving ahead on its own.

That’s primarily because the utility can use its large balance sheet to construct the plants and can often build them at a lower cost. PG&E’s CEO Peter Darbee has said that the California utility may be interested in building and owning solar systems, too. Nathaniel Bullard, analyst with research firm New Energy Finance says that now that utilities are able to access the recently renewed Investment Tax Credits, he expects to see more utilities interested in building and operating their own solar projects. FPL can build it cheaper, says Bullard, it’s a sweet spot for them.

FPL is expecting to spend around $688 million for three solar projects: the solar thermal plant that it broke ground on this week, as well as two photovoltaic plants that will be built by PV maker SunPower but be owned and operated by FPL. With these three solar plants, FPL is planning on generating a total of 110 megawatts for the state of Florida.

By Katie Fehrenbacher

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