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Scientist calls nation's biggest solar plant a toy

DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center, the largest photovoltaic solar plant in the U.S.

Green energy advocates are promoting the newly built, largest solar-power plant in the nation by means of hiding costs and inflating energy output claims, according to a prominent research scientist and founder of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, who says he has crunched the numbers.

Florida Power & Light Company recently flipped the switch on its DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Arcadia, Fla., a 90,000-panel photovoltaic solar facility that FPL claims on its website will produce “25 megawatts of clean, renewable energy” to help “a world confronted by the threat of global climate change.”

Already planning two additional plants in the Sunshine State, FPL boasts, “Over the life of the centers, the solar energy produced will prevent the emission of more than 3.5 million tons of greenhouse gases, which according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is equivalent to removing 25,000 cars from our roads, annually.”

But the OISM’s Dr. Arthur B. Robinson has dug deeper into claims of just how much energy the plant will produce.

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Robinson cites an FPL estimate published in Renewable Energy News that the plant will produce 42,000 megawatt hours per year of electricity. Robinson calculates that level of output only makes the DeSoto plant a 4.8-megawatt facility, or roughly one-fifth the “25-megawatt” boast.

“This fivefold difference is typical of reports on solar installations,” Robinson writes.

Robinson also criticized the project after comparing its purported energy savings to the $150 million it took to build the plant.

Based on the 42,000 megawatt hour estimate, Robinson calculates the plant will produce $2.52 million worth of electricity per year – which means it would take 60 years for the plant to pay for its construction costs, or 36 years if the numbers were recalculated with peak power cost scales.

“These estimates of years to recover cost do not include maintenance and other expenses,” Robinson writes.

And if priced in comparison with the cost of producing nuclear energy, Robinson calculates, it would take the solar plant 214 years to pay off its construction.

And what return will Floridians get on this long-term investment?

“Florida Power and Light brags that this new solar plant will power 3,000 homes,” Robinson writes. “This is $50,000 per home – for which the home gets 38 kilowatt hours per day. That 38 kilowatt hours is enough to power one ordinary one-room electric space heater.”

Nonetheless, President Obama praised the solar facility when he visited its commissioning last month:

“For the very first time, a large-scale solar-power plant – the largest of its kind in the entire nation – will deliver electricity produced by the sun to the citizens of the Sunshine State. And I think it’s about time,” said Obama. “At this moment, there is something big happening in America when it comes to creating a clean energy economy. But getting there will take a few more days like this one and more projects like this one.”

FPL has also insisted that the plant has other benefits, besides energy:

“Our Florida solar projects are creating good construction jobs when they’re needed most, and in the years ahead they’ll create clean energy when it’s needed most,” said FPL Group Chairman and CEO Lew Hay. “We’re ready to build more solar in Florida, and with the right public policy support, we will.”

To that end, President Obama further announced at the commissioning ceremony that FPL was awarded $200 million in Recovery Act funds – in addition to an unspecified amount of federal money given to build the DeSoto solar plant – to invest in Energy Smart Florida, an “intelligent network” solution to improving the electric grid.

FPL estimates that, coupled with its own $378 million investment, Energy Smart Florida will create 6,000 jobs, a consistent selling point the company forwards on its website.

“The plant will generate more than $2 million in additional property tax revenue for DeSoto County through the end of 2010 and $37 million over the life of the project,” claims an FPL statement. “The influx of workers into the DeSoto County area also helped local businesses during difficult economic times.”

An FPL video promoting the project and its benefit to local businesses can be seen below:

“This can be just the beginning,” the video states, referring to the $150 million solar plant. “In our fight to combat the worst potential effects of climate change, it is imperative that we capture more of the sunlight that illuminates our world.”