Here comes the sun: Kissimmee to use solar power in 100 percent of city buildings by 2020

Kissimmee City Hall would just be one of the municipal buildings powered by solar energy.

A bright future awaits Kissimmee as it become the first city in Florida to have all government-owned facilities powered by solar energy.

By next year, 100 metered locations – including City Hall, the police department and all street lights in city limits – will operate through a new Kissimmee Utility Authority (KUA) solar program.

The big plan was approved by city commissioners Feb. 5, and doesn’t require Kissimmee to make any capital investments or long-term commitments, according Larry Mattern, KUA’s vice president of power supply.

Instead, Kissimmee can opt out as soon as 30 days after signing up, or can participate as long as 20 years. The same applies to any resident or business that joins the program.

More money now, potential savings later

The new agreement is costing the city money, but Kissimmee is likely to save the longer it stays in the program, Mattern explained, since anyone who participates is locked in to a fixed rate insulated from rising traditional energy costs.  

Solar energy costs about 4 cents per kilowatt hour through the new program, while traditional energy currently costs around 2.6 cents per kwh.

The 1.4-cent difference is what Mattern called the “solar surcharge.”

It’s projected to add $56,300 to Kissimmee’s energy costs during the second half of 2020 (when the program begins) and $112,600 for the first full year in 2021.

But, if traditional energy costs like coal and natural gas exceed that four-cent mark in the future, the city saves money, and the deal is still more affordable than if the city chose to buy, install and maintain its own solar panels, according to Mattern.

Making solar energy affordable

KUA can offer cheaper solar rates because it joined the Florida Municipal Solar Project last year. The large-scale solar energy co-op is a joint effort between the Florida Municipal Power Agency, NextEra Florida Renewables, LLC, KUA and 11 other city-owned utility companies.

The energy will come from three new solar farms spanning a combined 900,000 solar panels in Orange and Osceola counties.

KUA and the 11 other electric companies don’t have to pay to install or maintain the solar panels. Instead, they only purchase the energy they need.

For KUA, that’s 30 megawatts or roughly an eighth of the total energy the farms are projected to generate.

KUA is in a 20-year fixed rate through the Florida Municipal Solar Project, with the option to renew for another 10 years after that.

How can residents join?

Residential and commercial customers will be able to opt-in as soon the new program officially rolls out next year, said KUA Public Information Officer Chris Gent.

“The city was anxious to be the very first customer, so they moved forward prior to a formal announcement,” he said.

Those who join will initially pay slightly higher rates for solar – about $13.91 per month more for the average resident, Gent said.

But over time, customers who join “should see a rate that is combatively lower as fuel prices will likely rise for non-solar customers,” according to a Feb. 5 agenda item document.

The solar supply isn’t unlimited though. According to Gent, 6,738 customers could be enrolled if each person signs up to receive 100 percent solar service, or 26,952 customers if each person signs up for 25 percent solar service.

“This obviously doesn’t take into account the level of interest among commercial customers,” Gent noted. “That could take up much more of the output.”

KUA has already committed about 10 percent of its entire solar project to the city, for example.

A greener Kissimmee

Kissimmee commissioners unanimously approved the measure Feb. 5, with a round of applause when Mayor Jose Alvarez noted that the city would be the first in Florida to operate 100 percent of government-owned facilities using this clean energy.

Kissimmee has made efforts in recent years to find green energy solutions including installing electric vehicle charging stations, utilizing hybrid-electric sanitation vehicles and implementing automated HVAC systems to lower energy consumption.

“When KUA begins to offer this program to their customers, they’ll see that their own government believes in it,” Alvarez said after the motion passed. “That’s the future of our country…to leave a better planet then what we found.”