A new subdivision of 77 homes doesn’t sound particularly disruptive, but the “Myrtlebrook” development in Lakeland’s northwest quadrant is poised to become the city’s first solar microgrid community.
Lakeland’s City Commission will vote today on a partnership between Lakeland Electric, BlockEnergy and Highland Homes to construct 77 solar-powered single-family homes networked together in a “microgrid.” Each home will have its own solar panels and batteries, but these will be linked together. A central energy park will have additional battery storage to help control the neighborhood flow.
Lakeland Electric will own the solar equipment, paying Tampa-based BlockEnergy LLC about $55,000 per home. The community will be connected to Lakeland Electric’s grid — contributing excess power when it has a surplus and drawing power as needed.
The proposed neighborhood will be located west of Dr. N.E. Roberts Elementary School, on Myrtle Road west of Green Road. The 77 homes will sit on 16 acres, with an average lot size of 6,000 square feet. Highland Homes expects to break ground in 2024, with housing construction set to be completed in late 2025 or early 2026.
“The microgrid project is disruptive. It’s new. It’s everything emerging technology stands for,” said Mike Dammer, Lakeland Electric’s manager of emerging technologies. “Which means everybody from the top down has had their hands on, looking at this, because we’re going into the new.”
In July, LE announced it was in talks with BlockEnergy, owned by Emera Inc. (which also owns Tampa Electric Company) to create solar-powered homes in a new subdivision that incorporates solar panels and a battery for homes to generate the neighborhood’s own microgrid of power.
The technology got its first major test during Hurricane Ian in September 2022. The powerful storm left 2.7 million Floridians in the dark, but residents of the 37-home Southshore Bay microgrid community in Wimauma, near Tampa, never lost power.
Homes grouped in pairs will share a Block Box battery-inverter, which will be connected to a Block Central that includes a system controller, larger scale batteries, backup natural gas generation and a tie top LE’s grid.
The City is agreeing to pay BlockEnergy on a set schedule of milestones $55,000 for each of the 77 homes, for a total cost of $4.235 million. The original plan was for 50 homes at a cost of $2.75 million.
The total cost of the project will be funded by Lakeland Electric. In July, Cindy Clemmons, Lakeland Electric’s manager of legislative and regulatory relations, said the cost of the equipment is “about the same or a little bit less” than installing traditional electric infrastructure with poles, wires, utility boxes and so forth.
Approximately $1.7 million is included in Lakeland Electric’s fiscal year 2024 budget, with the remainder of the cost subject to City Commission approval in subsequent budget years.
This project is also eligible for up to $1.1 million in federal tax incentives for green energy credits, which Lakeland Electric plans to pursue to offset the cost.
In the event of any lawsuits or claims, the contract calls for BlockEnergy to hold the city harmless, including personal injury and physical damage to property, arising out of Block’s negligence. BlockEnergy will provide a warranty on all materials and work during the three-year term of the Agreement as well as provide an additional six- month warranty from the date of any repair or replacement.
BlockEnergy will maintain the system for the first three years. During that time, it will train Lakeland Electric employees so they are ready to maintain and repair all of the equipment by 2028.
“This is a way of saying to our customers, ‘We are invested in your future to make sure we can limit outages,’ Dammer said. “This is a system that is designed to be built with and for the community. It is part of the community. It is not an add on. It is not a retrofit. This community is a solar community … We’re looking forward, not just trying to cram something in. We’re looking to make sure that when we build this, we’re building it with the community in mind, we’re building it with the customers in mind.”
Dammer said the microgrid is designed for 77% self-sufficiency, meaning the 77 homes will pull 77% from the BlockEnergy system and 23% from Lakeland Electric’s traditional generation.
“The caveat there is that that 23% will never be on peak — it will always be off peak,” Dammer said. “It will (add) into the batteries, 2:00 in the morning or whatever we decide is going to happen. So we have full control of when that happens, which means we’re not burdening our grid. And that’s a big win for us.”
The City Commission unanimously approved the contract on Monday.
The story has been updated to note the unanimous vote.
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