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Sunshine State starts living up to its name

The Sunshine State of Florida has long been a laggard when it came to harnessing solar energy, but it’s on its way toward improving its record with the ground-breaking this week of its first utility-scale solar facility.

The Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) began construction Tuesday of its 75-megawatt Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center. Located in the southeast part of the state north of West Palm Beach, the Indiantown facility is also being dubbed the “world’s first hybrid solar energy plant.”

The hybrid facility combines solar-thermal-based energy with natural-gas power. In that way, electricity can be generated cleanly when the sun is shining; when it’s not, the lights will stay on thanks to natural-gas electricity generation.

“At this innovative facility, each sunrise will be the equivalent of easing our foot off the gas pedal as solar power is being produced,” said Lew Hay, FPL group chairman and CEO.

One of three solar facilities being built in Florida by FPL, the Martin plant is expected to start operations in 2010. Once it’s up and running, it’s expected to provide enough electricity to power 11,000 homes … all while reducing fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions (an estimated 2.75 million tons over 30 years).

Once they’re all online, FPL’s three solar plants will make Florida the second-largest producer of solar power in the U.S., with a total capacity of 110 megawatts of energy.

“Florida’s future growth and economic strength depends on how we address climate change, and we know we can reduce greenhouse gases by using fewer fossil fuels and more natural energy sources like solar,” said Gov. Charlie Crist.

Since taking office, Crist, a Republican, has launched numerous initiatives aimed at developing renewable energy and fighting climate change. All good moves, considering Florida is not only the Sunshine State but a hurricane-prone one likely to lose much of its prime property to rising sea levels if global warming does its worst.

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