KSC’s energy from space
In 6 months, sun will power homes, 1% of spaceport
BY JIM WAYMER • FLORIDA TODAY • May 28, 2009
CAPE CANAVERAL — NASA took one small step toward energy independence Wednesday, joining Florida Power & Light in announcing plans to begin construction next week on a $78.9 million solar power project at Kennedy Space Center.
The Space Coast Next Generation Solar Energy Center will include 35,000 solar panels on 60 acres of an old citrus field northwest of State Road 3 and a few miles south of the KSC Visitor Complex.
Construction is set to begin Monday. When completed in about six months, the solar plant will produce an estimated 10 megawatts of emissions-free electricity for FPL customers, enough to power about 1,100 homes.
The project also includes a separate 1-megawatt solar plant within KSC’s industrial area to power the space center. Under a 30-year agreement, KSC will receive energy from the smaller plant in exchange for lending the land to FPL for the larger plant. NASA and FPL can extend the agreement by 20 years, if they so choose.
The project promises to spare carbon dioxide emissions by more than 227,000 tons, FPL said, about the same as taking 1,800 cars off the road each year.
But the politicians and corporations involved also see the promise of job creation.
"We’re really looking in the long term to bring more jobs, if there is the vision here to bring about more research and development," said Ed Smeloff, a manager with SunPower Corp., the San Jose, Calif., company contracted to build the plant.
SunPower has committed to locating a research-and-development center in Florida if the state continues to push for more solar energy.
The solar project at KSC will provide about 100 jobs during its construction, FPL officials said.
But U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, challenged the company’s CEO, Armando Olivera, to expand the plant to help offset job losses during the gap between the shuttle program’s 2010 retirement and the start of the next generation of rockets for human spaceflight.
Nelson said KSC has plenty of acreage for FPL to expand the plant, "then provide those jobs for two years down the road, when we desperately need them. We’ll make sure the tax incentives are there."
Olivera said FPL’s three planned solar plants in Florida would create 1,500 construction jobs and would bring the potential for future jobs in research and development.
"This will only happen if we have continued public support," he said.
The KSC plant is part of an FPL plan to bring 110 megawatts of renewable energy to Florida.
A 75-megawatt plant in Indiantown in Martin County will be the world’s first hybrid solar-thermal plant to connect to an existing fossil fuel plant.
FPL’s 25-megawatt solar plant in DeSoto County, to be completed later this year, will be the nation’s largest photovoltaic array.
FPL’s customers already pay an extra 31 cents a month to cover the cost of the three solar plants.
The plant at KSC would save about 122,000 barrels of oil and 2.8 billion cubic feet of natural gas over its 30-year lifetime, according to FPL.
Olivera said that if every power company follows FPL’s lead on renewable energy and operated as cleanly, the United States’ carbon emissions would drop by 50 percent.
"Picture half of the nation’s power plants simply vanishing," Olivera said.
The KSC announcement came on the same day that Greenpeace released a report that shows Florida emitted more pollution contributing to global warming per capita from 1960 to 2005 than 164 countries, including Denmark, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. The report ranked Florida 13th in the United States in historical per-capita emissions.
Also Wednesday, President Barack Obama toured and touted a large solar array at Nellis Air Force Base, near Las Vegas.
Obama’s administration released a report Wednesday detailing regional impacts of the recent economic stimulus package and announced the availability of $467 million in funding to expand and speed up the development and use of solar and geothermal energy.
The new KSC plant will offset about 1 percent of KSC’s energy use and will help the space center comply with mandated renewable-energy goals that federal agencies must meet. KSC spends $21.9 million a year on electricity.
Most photovoltaic cells are about 14 percent efficient, said Smeloff, the SunPower official. But the ones at KSC will be about 19 percent efficient, he said.
The 5-by-3-foot stationary modules will stand about 4 feet tall and face southward, creating rows of panels where citrus crops once stood.
Nelson commended FPL for recognizing the trends in renewable energy.
"This is the wave of the future," Nelson said. "FPL is way ahead of the game."
Contact Waymer at 242-3663 or firstname.lastname@example.org.