Sun will power 32,000 Florida homes

What would be the southeast's largest solar-power farm, generating enough electricity for 32,000 homes, will be built in the Florida Panhandle.

National Solar Power, a Melbourne-based company, says it will construct a $1.5 billion, 400-megawatt solar array in Gadsden County, just west of Tallahassee.

The project is expected to provide jobs for 400 construction workers over five years and up to 120 permanent employees with an average salary of $40,000.

National Solar has an agreement to provide electricity to Progress Energy Florida, which serves parts of Central and North Florida. The company also is in discussion with other potential customers.

"It's only fitting that America's Sunshine State shines brightest in attracting this significant economic engine to make its home here," Gov. Rick Scott said.

National Solar selected the 4,000-acre Gadsden site from among several areas it considered in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.

Chief Executive Officer James Scrivener said Gadsden was chosen for several reasons, including "its great year-round climate, strong community leadership, incredibly inviting regional support and the strong potential for future economic growth."

The sites that were passed over may be selected for future projects, Scrivener said. The company remains in discussion with those communities and plans to announce another solar project in Hardee County southeast of Tampa.

Scrivener credited Scott and the state's economic development team as well as the Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce and Tallahassee Community College with helping persuade National Solar to pick Gadsden.

He also announced a partnership with the college to create a solar energy education and training center at its Gadsden campus. That facility will feature a two-megawatt solar farm.

State Rep. Alan Williams, a Tallahassee Democrat whose district includes parts of Gadsden, said he's thrilled with the project but that Florida needs to do more to promote alternative energy.

"I continue to believe that in the face of our state's energy dependency and economic challenges, it is imperative that Florida create energy policies as a key element to developing available domestic resources to meet our energy goals," Williams said.

Solar rebates coming

Florida residents who have solar energy systems will be getting rebates they were promised two years ago, though they will be smaller than originally pledged.

Officials in the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said last week they began sending out 8,800 rebate checks.

The amount of rebates originally promised under the state incentive program -- widely promoted by then-Gov. Charlie Crist -- will be funded at 52 percent of the requested amount. Agriculture Department officials said the lower amount comes because the program ran out of money.