Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) and Audubon Florida announced an innovative new partnership to enhance FPL’s solar power plant sites with unprecedented environmental stewardship, providing thousands of acres of habitat for native plants, birds and vital pollinators such as bumblebees and butterflies.
Through the “Solar Sanctuary” partnership, FPL and Audubon Florida are working with the Florida Wildflower Foundation, Florida Native Plant Society, Wildlife Habitat Council, local Audubon chapters and others to design and implement site-specific environmental enhancements that will make FPL solar sites bird- and pollinator-friendly havens.
FPL is on track to install more than 2.5 million solar panels at eight new solar power plants across Florida that will be operational by early 2018. The site of each new facility is being designed to allow a significant amount of the land to be planted with native grasses, trees, shrubs and vines. Plants are being chosen to provide food for birds and pollinators. Quality wetlands are being preserved, which also provide habitat for birds.
“Our beautiful state has an abundance of sun and great diversity of native plant and animal species. FPL’s solar sites are transforming large sections of land. What is exciting is that each site is being designed to make the best use of areas that can benefit wildlife. We are so happy that FPL is taking the time to consult with Audubon and other organizations to make the best decisions about native plants. These Solar Sanctuaries will have benefits for generations,” said Julie Wraithmell, interim executive director of Audubon Florida.
“We are proud to partner with Audubon and other dedicated environmental groups on this wonderful project,” said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL. “When Audubon Florida approached us with this idea, we knew it was something our company wanted to be a part of. We are firm believers in the notion that amazing things can happen when non-profits and the private sector work together constructively, and I believe this project will set a great example for others to follow.”
The FPL Coral Farms Solar Energy Center in Putnam County and the FPL Loggerhead Solar Energy Center in St. Lucie County are the first sites with approved plans to become Solar Sanctuaries.
“FPL’s Solar Sanctuary site in St. Lucie County will help move us toward more green energy production and less environmental impact while maintaining efficiently priced energy for residents. Serving many social and conservation priorities at once, these projects are supported by the St. Lucie Audubon as an example of forward-thinking priorities in the energy sector,” said Eva Ries, president of the St. Lucie Audubon Society.
In addition to the enormous environmental benefits, FPL’s eight new solar power plants are expected to produce estimated net lifetime savings of more than $100 million for FPL customers by reducing fossil fuel use.
“We commend FPL for recognizing the value of collaborating with local organizations like ours in customizing the use of native plants for birds and butterflies in diverse landscapes and enhancing the solar fields for a more natural environment,” said Donna Halleran, 1st vice president of the Pelican Island Audubon Society in Indian River County, which is home to two of the sites—the FPL Indian River Solar Energy Center and the FPL Blue Cypress Solar Energy Center.
In addition to the four mentioned above, the following sites are also currently under construction and will be included in the Solar Sanctuary program:
- FPL Horizon Solar Energy Center, Alachua and Putnam Counties
- FPL Wildflower Solar Energy Center, DeSoto County
- FPL Barefoot Bay Solar Energy Center, Brevard County
- FPL Hammock Solar Energy Center, Hendry County
Solar Sanctuary Designation
Each FPL solar power plant encompasses several hundred acres of land in order to host roughly 330,000 solar panels. However, unlike other types of development, an FPL solar site leaves much of the land virtually untouched, including areas beneath and around the solar panels.
Concrete is not used to secure the panel systems to the ground, and once construction is complete, the facilities require minimal human activity—making them ideal for sharing with birds and pollinators. The goal of the Solar Sanctuary partnership is to leverage this land to further enhance its environmental benefits.
Plans for each Solar Sanctuary designation will vary from location to location based on input from local conservation groups that will advise FPL on locally important birds, native wildlife, other natural resources and specific benefits that may be achieved by using certain types of plants and supplemental habitat aides.
Some enhancements that will be implemented include:
- Creating pollinator-friendly habitat areas to provide ample food sources for insects, songbirds and hummingbirds
- Planting vine species to provide a food source for native and migratory hummingbird species
- Planting native vegetation as a buffer near property edges, which will provide food sources and nesting habitat for a variety of songbirds such as bluebirds and wintering sparrows
- Preserving wetlands and surface waters to provide habitat for a variety of wetland-dependent wildlife species such as frogs, snakes, turtles and wading birds
- Protecting existing gopher tortoise habitat, including burrows
- Planting native groundcover and shrubs to provide additional food and shelter for birds and wildlife
- The program will also provide an added benefit to agricultural communities that neighbor many of the solar sites by attracting native pollinators that help farmers grow crops. Additional plans may include building bird perches and bird boxes and creating water recharge opportunities.
This partnership builds on FPL’s pilot pollinator program, which was initiated at three solar power plants that were completed in 2016. Approximately 15 acres of pollinator habitat were designated at the FPL Citrus Solar Energy Center in DeSoto County, FPL Babcock Solar Energy Center in Charlotte County and FPL Manatee Solar Energy Center in Manatee County. Pollinator-friendly wildflowers and other native plants were planted to provide fertile habitat for butterflies, bees and birds.
News item from FPL