EGLIN AFB â€” The solar power array operating since the summer of 2017 is performing close to its projected capacity of 30 megawatts, and erosion problems that had plagued the 236-acre site off College Boulevard West have been addressed, a Gulf Power official said Tuesday during a media tour marking the facility's first full year of operation.
The solar array, built and operated by California-based Coronal Energy, has Gulf Power as its sole customer. Gulf Power is using its association with Coronal Energy as a learning experience, with the possibility of one day venturing into solar power on its own, according to Melvin Young, generation asset manager with Gulf Power.
"We're learning a lot," Gulf Power spokesman Jeff Rogers added during the tour on Eglin Air Force Base property.
Gulf Power serves more than 460,000 customers in eight Northwest Florida counties. In addition to solar power generation, the utility has access to wind energy generated in Oklahoma, and closer to home, is involved in landfill gas-to-energy production in Escambia County.
Gulf Power's continuing focus on alternatives to coal- and gas-generated power is, Rogers said, "expected to continue to put downward pressure on prices." He pronounced Gulf Power's foray into solar power "very successful."
The Eglin facility, equipped with more than 370,000 solar panels, has been operating within 10 percent of its total projected capacity for the past 12 months, according to Young. Late Tuesday morning, after cloud cover gave way to bright sunlight, computer data showed the facility producing 24 megawatts of power.
Young attributed the slightly less-than-projected performance to the more than usually cloudy and rainy weather over the past several months. But the rain carries a bonus for the solar array in that it keeps the solar panels free of grime that can impede performance, he added.
In the early days of the facility, though, rain eroded the soil and sent mud into Tom's Creek and Tom's Bayou, discoloring the water and angering residents of nearby Valparaiso.
Young blamed the problem on a June 2017 storm that dumped 8 inches of rain onto the solar array within 24 hours, combined with a lack of vegetation on the site. Those issues overwhelmed runoff control infrastructure that had been designed handle a 100-year flood. That infrastructure has been reworked and now should be able to handle three times the water of a 100-year flood, Young said.
Eglin donate the property as part of a federal government goal to generate significant amounts of renewable energy on defense facilities. It is one of three Coronal Energy solar arrays on area military bases used by Gulf Power. The other two are at Pensacola Naval Air Station's Saufley Field and Whiting Field Naval Air Station's Holley Field.
The three facilities comprise nearly 1.5 million solar panels, covering 940 acres, with a total capacity of 120 megawatts.
The Eglin facility can power nearly 4,600 homes for a year. The NAS Pensacola facility can power nearly 7,400 homes for a year and the NAS Whiting Field facility can power more than 6,000 homes for a year.
Gulf Power spokeswoman Kimberly Blair said that from the utility's perspective, "it's exciting to see the vision we had for this project performing as anticipated." She called the public-private partnership of the three solar arrays "a proud accomplishment for Gulf Power, and a significant milestone for the local economy, our customers and the environment."