Stanton Energy Center adds solar to multi-generation complex

Solar Power International attendees had the opportunity to see a new solar project up close during tours of the Stanton Solar Farm in Orlando, Fla. on Sept. 10. The 5.9 MW project in east Orange County is comprised of 25,172 solar modules on a single-axis tracking system. The 3,280-acre Curtis H. Stanton Energy Center was already home to natural gas, landfill gas and coal before the solar farm came online in December 2011. This diverse portfolio makes Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) the only utility in Florida with solar, landfill gas, natural gas and coal generation on the same site.

OUC partnered with Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK) and Regenesis Power LLC to install, operate and maintain the power. OUC is purchasing the power the facility produces for 20 years. Duke Energy owns and operates the system, and Regenesis built the array. The project utilizes Yingli Solar modules and SMA’s 500 kW inverters.

The modules are uniquely designed to withstand Category-4 hurricane-strength winds by moving into a stow position before a major storm arrives. Through an intricate monitoring system, Duke Energy detects if wind gusts have reached 40 miles per hour for more than eight seconds, and the panels are immediately rotated to the west until they’re flat and stowed. The entire rotation and stowing process takes about 12 to 13 minutes.

“All of the panels are then inspected visually and a manual restart must be done,” said Tom Paff, manager of the Renewable Energy Monitoring Center at Duke Energy Renewables.

The single axis tracker is also equipped with a tracking algorithm that equips the modules to follow the sun, increasing electricity output by up to 30 percent more than a fixed-tilt system. Since each day brings about varying amounts of sunlight, depending on weather and seasonal conditions, the algorithm changes every day of the year. This method allows the Stanton Solar Farm to soak in the maximum amount of sun possible, feeding the grid to provide electricity to 600 homes. The modules are supported by 600 tons of steel and 17 miles of wire connect the modules to the electric grid.

The Stanton Solar Farm took time to become a reality. The first request for information was filed in July 2009.The permitting process took about nine months, and construction of the solar arrays lasted about six months. There were concerns that because the farm was built on a former army base, explosives may be buried underneath the 50 acres of land.

Once OUC, Duke and Regenesis confirmed that no ammunition was underground, they also had to work with three different water agencies. Water on the site drains into an environmentally sensitive area, home to 40 different species of animals, such as the red cockaded woodpecker, deer, alligators, sandhill crane, great blue herons, wild hogs, turkeys and bald eagles.

The project was modeled after an existing 2 MW solar project that Regenesis built for Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. A second phase of the Stanton Solar Farm consisting of an additional 3.5 MW is planned, though it is currently on hold.

In addition to increasing OUC’s portfolio of clean generation, the Stanton Solar Farm also provides the opportunity for OUC to study the impact a large-scale solar array will have on its electric distribution system over time. OUC is currently evaluating a mix of commercial and residential systems and even solar on utility poles to determine their impact on the grid and identify the business models that best benefit their customers.

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