Editor’s note: This article has been updated from a previous version to include comments from West Florida Electric.

The Town of Esto has been discussing and pursuing using solar energy, specifically getting solar panels on their Community Center building at John Clark Park and developing the junkyard property into a solar farm.

Town Clerk Ben Tew gave an update on the projects during a Town Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 19.

“I finally got in contact with a solar commercial panel provider that does these sorts of things for municipalities or commercial businesses,” Tew said. “He looked at it and said the big roadblock to do these projects is going to be West Florida Electric. They have rules and regulations from their end that really limit solar development in this area, I have to say.”

A solar panel at the park building would only be able to apply to the park’s utility bill. The company Tew talked to is Advanced Green Technologies, which is based down in Central and South Florida. Coming up to North Florida would not be “economically feasible,” Tew said.

“West Florida Electric won’t let you generate more power than, like, 150% of that bill,” Tew said. “Even though the Town pays, like, $1,000 in electric bills, we can only generate $500 at the park. We would be a pretty solar panel installation and it wouldn’t apply to most of the rest of our stuff.”

The Town could talk to West Florida Electric about lumping all the Town’s power bills together and then being allowed to put in a solar power grid to apply to that but “that would mean sort of a virtual metering and stuff on their end,” Tew said.

“It would need an exception from them,” Tew said.

Terry Mullen, manager of marketing and communications for West Florida Electric, disputed Tew’s assertions the day after the meeting. West Florida Electric does not have rules and regulations that limit solar use, Mullen said. 

In fact, West Florida Electric has a calculator on their website that can help users determine aspects of solar use, Mullen said.

Mullen also said is not true that West Florida Electric has limitations on how much solar energy you can generate and put back on a bill.

Council Vice President Josh Davenport said “the only place” that “would make a really big difference for us” would be in the wells area.

“Those are our big cost, as far as energy,” Davenport said.

Tew said the park itself doesn’t actually use much power but “has so many streetlights out there.”

“I think we only use $60 or $70 in power at the park,” Tew said. “The other $300 a month is from the 14 power pole lights we got there.”

Councilmember Garet Skipper said solar use at the park “seems like it’s way more trouble than it’s worth.”

“With the solar on the five acres (of the junkyard), there’s got to be a way to do that,” Skipper said.

Tew said West Florida Electric limits power conductions into their grid to 25 kilowatts, a claim Mullen said is not true. West Florida Electric can put as much power on the grid as distribution will carry, Mullen said. 

“A solar farm (like this) could probably generate 1,000 kilowatts,” Tew said. “They would have to make an exception for that too. They’ve pretty much set it up to where there are no solar farms in this area.”

Getting the cooperation of West Florida Electric “is going to be difficult” on a large-scale project, Davenport said.

“Now, if we’re looking to offset costs for operation, I think that’s something we might be able to do,” Davenport said. “As far as generating additional funding from it, it seems like we’re going to be limited there–unless we would have an exception made for us.”

Skipper said the matter could be discussed again after the start of the new year and he would look into the issue.

Finding another solar energy installer besides Advanced Green Technologies would probably involve the Town looking at a provider in Alabama, perhaps Mobile, Tew said.

“All the solar panel installers around here are residential,” Tew said.

Mullen said the Town of Esto has not reached out to West Florida Electric about the project but is welcome to do so to determine if the project is feasible. 

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