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Gadsden County competing for $1.4 billion solar energy project

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By Pat Faherty

Gadsden County is a finalist to land what is being described as the world's largest solar energy farm, a $1.4 billon project that would create hundreds of jobs.

National Solar Power based in Melbourne, announced Tuesday that seven communities in the Southeast are vying to be chosen by the company as the site for the construction and operation of this facility and Gadsden County is one of them.

The list of communities includes four in Florida, two in Georgia and one in North Carolina. 

“We are excited about the progress we have made in narrowing the search for establishing our groundbreaking solar farm project that will provide a source for renewable energy for consumers while boosting job creation and economic health in the winning community,” said James Scrivener, CEO of National Solar Power.  “Over the next month we will continue our due diligence and make a final decision about where this revolutionary venture will make its permanent home.

  “Every one of the communities on our finalist list is an attractive location for this project.”   

Other communities selected as finalists are: Florida: Hardee, Osceola and Suwannee counties. Georgia: Sumter and Tatnall counties. North Carolina: Guilford County (Greensboro-area).

Its criteria in selecting a community partner for the new solar farm location includes: 

*Finding ideal available sites with adequate supply of undeveloped land that can properly meet infrastructure needs related to the establishment of the solar facility;

*Receiving appropriate business, government and community support;

*Qualifying for appropriate economic development and tax incentives; and

*Access to a qualified work force

The company plans to establish a 400-megawatt solar project in the winning community, which would make it the world’ s largest photovoltaic (PV) power plant. The project is made up of 20 related 200-acre solar farms, with each generating more than 20-megawatts of renewable energy.

Currently, the world’s largest solar power plant is an 80-megawatt solar project in Ontario, Canada. Though a planned super-sized solar farm in China is also claiming the "world's largest" title.

By converting the natural power of the sun into electricity, National Solar Power’s planned facility will be capable of providing enough renewable energy to power roughly 32,000 homes. 

Scrivener said the company’s final process for selecting a community will include a combination of ongoing site visits in some communities and strategic conversations with key political/governmental, business and community leaders.

In Gadsden County, the preliminary process has been going on for about a year.

According to the company’s news release, the project has the potential to create 400 jobs during the five-year construction phase and up to 120 permanent jobs – all based on a clean energy endeavor. The first phase is expected to be up and running within six months of construction commencing.

Once a final site is selected, it will take around six months for the first segment of the farm to be constructed. Each of the 20 farm segments represents a $70 million investment. When construction of the solar farm is complete in six years, it will represent a nearly $1.5 billion investment in the winning community.

“That much impact, it’s a game changer,” said David Gardner, executive director of the Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce. “We’re going to do everything we can to try and make it happen. The community has to be united on this.”

“We’ve been their contact and working with the company for the past year,” he said. “It didn’t just happen overnight.” The chamber started focusing on renewable energy for economic development about three years ago.

He emphasized that it is a low impact, environmentally friendly project. See related story.

Once operational, the low-profile solar farms will be less than seven-feet tall and surrounded by vegetation, making them inconspicuous to the surrounding area. 

Moving forward, Gardner said he would be working closely with the county on the administrative side as well as with the commissioners to land the project here.

National Solar Power is a three-year-old Florida-based company established to meet the growing demand in the utility market for renewable energy generation by providing utilities with cost-effective solar solutions.

The company has entered into power supply agreements for more than 3,000 megawatts of solar farms in the Southeastern United States. With these agreements, the company is well positioned to be a market leader in utility-scale solar production.