State Sen. Bill Montford, right, congratulates Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director David Gardner on the National Solar Power's massive solar farm project. / Dave Hodges/DemocratWith the excitement of a massive solar-energy farm coming to the community still fresh on their minds, Gadsden County businesses are looking ahead to the potential such a project could have on the local economy.
Monday's announcement by National Solar Power was a discussion topic Wednesday at the "Go Gadsden" breakfast of the Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce. The invited speaker, state Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, told the gathering the project's impact will extend well beyond the county.
"This is good for Gadsden County, but it's good for all of North Florida," Montford said during the breakfast at the Florida Public Safety Institute in Midway. "We believe it's just the beginning."
Montford talked about the Florida Legislature's continued challenges in coping with state budget limitations as demand for government services increases. In the case of Gadsden County and its school system, the solar farm is anticipated to generate $120 million in property tax receipts throughout the life of the project.
Melbourne-based National Solar Power announced Monday that Gadsden County was its choice for the first farm construction — the Southeast's largest such solar project to date. It will sell power directly to electric utilities and will be big enough to power about 32,000 homes. It is expected to require up to 400 construction personnel to build, then will have a permanent staff of 120 thereafter.
"We have lost a lot of jobs over the last few years with the nurseries and a printing house," said chamber president Charlie Brown, referring to businesses that have closed. The solar project comes along at a good time, he added. "Hopefully, it will be a catapult for other jobs and other companies in Gadsden County."
Paul Gleasman, chief financial officer for Ram Construction & Development, said his company is looking at the business potential for the work necessary to create the solar facilities. There will be 90,000 solar panels per farm, with build-out consisting of twenty 200-acre parcels.
"I am very excited about it," Gleasman said. "In fact, it is interesting that North Florida is taking the lead on renewable energy."
"If you can add that accolade to your resume, that's very impressive," he added.
David Dickson, senior project scientist for environmental consulting firm Cardno Entrix, agreed. "Good things are happening for Gadsden County," he said. "It's something this region has sorely needed."
Montford thanked chamber executive director David Gardner for his efforts to pursue the solar project and build local support for it. Gardner responded that he suspects more companies may bring projects to the area once they hear of National Solar Power's decision to make a $1.5-billion investment in Gadsden County.
"This is going to be great. I am still trying to grasp it," Gardner said of the economic impact.