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January 30, 2013

'A HERO Comes Along,' to Seal 70-MW Solar Interconnect Pact with Florida Utility



Hamilton Energy Resource Opportunities LLC (HERO Solar) of Jasper, Florida, has entered into an interconnection agreement with Progress Energy Florida for a 70-megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic installation—the Hercules Solar Power Project— to be developed on 450 acres of previously farmed land within the Hamilton County Enterprise Zone in northern Florida. 

The announcement came during the same news cycle in which the Netherlands-based home furnishing retailer, IKEA, revealed that it had officially plugged in the solar PV energy system at its South Florida store in the City of Sunrise—for the largest solar installation (1,057 kilowatts or 1 MW) in that part of the state.

HERO, based in Jasper, Florida, was established in 2009 to build, manage and invest in renewable energy projects. Progress Energy, the second-largest utility in Florida, merged with Duke Energy (News - Alert) last year—creating the biggest electric power holding company in the United States.

Under the Duke Energy banner, the combined companies now supply and deliver energy to approximately 7 million U.S. customers.

The Hercules Solar Power Project agreement follows on the successful completion of an interconnection study process. HERO Managing Director of Development Jack Levine commented, "We are grateful to Progress Energy and their Interconnect Team, who have helped us every step of the way through feasibility, system impact and facility studies to ensure Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) guidelines and utility requirements were met. We are delighted to have accomplished this impressive milestone and are excited about starting our construction build out. We look forward to continuing working with our partners at Progress Energy and commend their efforts to develop alternative fuel sources and provide economic development within their service areas."

Paris-based Schneider Electric’s (News - Alert) engineering and design team assisted HERO through the application process and provided final design plans for the PV plant and associated substation.

Levine noted, "We are proud to work with industry leader Schneider Electric and their fine engineering and design team, who have assisted us through the application process and provided final design plans for the solar field and substation.”

However, HERO is looking for alternatives to the avoided cost-based power purchase agreement the utility has offered.  In an interview with Platts, Levine said HERO is pursuing possible power sales deals with large commercial, industrial and military customers in Florida and neighboring states interested in securing fixed, long-term prices on all or part of the 70 MW of solar capacity HERO plans to develop.HERO also is exploring the possibility of finding a strategic partner that could take advantage of the tax-equity benefits the solar project would provide, Levine said, adding that both alternatives show promise.Levine said he was disappointed that the Florida Legislature did not approve a 2012 bill that would have permitted utilities to pay more than avoided cost-based rates for solar and other renewable power. While he is optimistic that legislators will approve a pro-solar measure this year, HERO cannot base its project development plans on that hope.

"Right now there are regulatory barriers that do not allow us to recognize the added value of alternative energy and therefore have impeded the ability for the project to be adequately funded," said Levine. "As such, we are now beginning to look for and aggressively examine strategic alternatives that will allow us to get the project built. This project is ideal for the right tax equity partner or a company looking to expand their strategic footprint in the United States."

Hamilton County, Florida, where the project is located, has set aside $350,000 in an economic development grant for the project.  Hamilton County Economic Development Authority Executive Director, Susan Ramsey,  who has worked with HERO since the project was conceived in 2009, commented, "On behalf of the Board of Directors for the Hamilton County Development Authority, we are excited that HERO continues to move forward with this pioneering solar energy project …This project will have a substantial, positive economic impact in Hamilton County through not only the permanent jobs created, but the high volume of construction jobs and indirect jobs generated over the two-year build-out period as well.”

“HERO is a tremendous growth opportunity for the county's economy and accomplishes our goal of supporting green energy,” she said. “We are impressed with the progress made to date and continue to support HERO's efforts and devotion to get this project built.”

Levine further commented, "HERO believes in Florida and its future as a leader in green energy development and production. We appreciate the attention the Florida legislature has placed on these important issues. We have met with and will continue to share ideas and explore solutions with Governor [Rick] Scott and his staff, Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnum and his staff, as well as legislators, lobbyists and other concerned parties in an effort to forge ahead with a renewable energy program that will allow important projects like ours to be built and enable Florida to become a leader in renewable energy."

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Edited by Braden Becker


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