The irony was not lost on anyone attending the event.
With overcast skies producing spritzes of rain, about 100 people came out Dec. 12 to a barren tract on DeBary’s west side to celebrate the development of a solar-energy facility.
“I look forward to the ribbon-cutting in the sunshine,” DeBary Mayor Karen Chasez told the crowd.
To produce more clean and renewable energy, Duke Energy has cleared more than 350 acres north of West Highbanks Road for installation of some 300,000 solar panels. The photovoltaic panels will be mounted on racks and tilted in a fixed southward position to maximize their ability to capture the sun’s energy.
When installation is completed in 2020, and the facility becomes part of the electric grid, the solar farm will generate an estimated 74.5 megawatts of electricity daily. That is enough to meet the needs of approximately 20,000 modern homes, according to Duke corporate officials.
Duke’s DeBary solar farm is part of the company’s expansion of its sunlight-to-electricity program. The program’s goal is to derive at least 10 percent of its electricity — some 700 megawatts per day — from the sun.
“I’m really excited about what we’re doing in Florida,” Duke Energy Florida President Catherine Stempien said.
Stempien said the utility’s customers have voiced their desire for more clean energy, and she added, “We’re listening to our customers.”
When Duke’s solar-power expansion is halfway completed next year, Stempien noted, the company will reduce its carbon emissions by approximately 1 million pounds per year.
The company is building nine other such facilities around Florida, whose total value will be about $1 billion. The DeBary plant will have an estimated value of $100 million.
The land in DeBary on which Duke Energy is developing the solar farm is part of a 1,900-acre spread the company owns on the east side of the St. Johns River. The former owner of the land was Progress Energy, which merged with Duke in 2012. Duke Energy’s home office is in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The large parcel also has a “peaker” electric power plant that operates when electricity demands surge, such as in hot weather when there is a greater usage of air conditioning.