Melbourne, Fla.-based National Solar announced on Sept. 26 that it will build a $1.5-billion, 400-MW solar farm in northern Florida, the largest in the Southeast announced to date.

The company is still securing financing for the project, says spokesman Ryan Banfill, but the company expects to begin construction in the first quarter of 2012. Over the course of five years, it will build at least 20 20-MW photovoltaic solar farms in Gadsden County, Fla. Each is expected to cost about $70 million and cover 200 acres.

Greeley, Colo.-based Hensel Phelps will design, build and operate the solar farms. Permitting for the sites, which are not contiguous, is not yet complete, Banfill says. Each 20-MW farm will be connected separately to the grid, Banfill says. Hensel Phelps also was selected to build a 200-MW solar tower in La Paz County, Ariz.

Progress Energy has agreed to purchase at least 50 MW of power from the project. National Solar CEO James Schrivener says the company would like to sell the energy only to utilities and then separately sell the renewable-energy credits to other buyers.

National Power looked at sites throughout the Southeast before selecting Gadsden County, but the company is still pursuing development of solar farms elsewhere in the region, including in Hardee County.

Banfill says solar power is attractive to utilities in the Southeast because it produces energy during peak usage periods. National Solar's project is expected to produce energy at about 55% of its total capacity during the summer months, he says.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, before the National Solar announcement, Florida had 127 MW of solar power in operation and another 222 MW in development—behind California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas for construction of solar farms.

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