Tech City shows future of energy production

With the largest bi-facial solar array in the state, San Felasco Tech City is paving the way for increased adoption of renewable solar energy in Florida. eda provided surveying, engineering, and permitting services for this live-work-play complex in Alachua. Read more about it in the Gainesville Sun.

Alachua, Florida – The temperature hovered near the mid-90s Tuesday at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the San Felasco Tech City development in Alachua. Shade from the solar panels hanging over the development’s central promenade provided some relief for those in attendance.

The panels, installed by Gainesville-based Power Production Management Inc., comprise the largest bi-facial solar array in Florida and possibly the country, said Mitch Glaeser, CEO of the Emory Group of Companies and co-developer of Tech City.

The panels collect solar energy from above as well as sunlight reflecting off the ground. The development is designed to collect enough solar energy to completely power the businesses and residences being built there during the day, while sending electricity back to the grid that offsets the amount used at night.

Tech City’s use of solar power stands out today, but will likely be more typical in the future. That would reduce the power-plant emissions contributing to climate change, but upend the business model of utilities.

Alex Khokhlov, co-founder of Power Production Management, expects utilities to shift from the power-generating business to being more of a distributor and broker of electricity. But he said the lack of a unified energy policy in Florida, regulatory hurdles and utility opposition are impeding such changes here.

While Florida’s utilities are expanding their own solar production, they’re using their political clout (thanks to massive campaign donations) to block others from following suit. Florida is just one of eight states that ban the sale of solar power directly to consumers unless a utility is the provider.

Utilities create other obstacles as well, including municipally owned Gainesville Regional Utilities. Khokhlov said GRU is the only utility in the five states where he’s licensed that requires residents to get pre-approval before installing a solar power system.

The increasing use of solar energy has implications for GRU and the whole city, which relies heavily on utility profits to fund government programs and services. Gainesville should brace for a very different future.

Under an initiative supported by Infinite Energy co-founder Rich Blaser, who is also the co-developer of Tech City, Florida customers of investor-owned utilities would be able to choose their electricity provider and to generate and sell electricity. Municipal utilities would be able to opt into competitive markets.

The measure faces an uphill battle to make the ballot and pass, but something needs to change in the Sunshine State. Florida trails 19 states in the use of solar power including decidedly less sunny Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

Developments like Tech City will hopefully become the norm here in the decades ahead — even if that means utilities have to figure out a new way to operate.