March 6, 2019

Theresa Java/Free Press
The 334 solar panels the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District installed on the rooftop and over the chlorine contact basins will produce enough energy to power the equivalent of 12 local homes. Above, plant manager Jered Primicerio takes a photo of the rooftop panels. He described them as 'plug-and-play.

Theresa Java/Free Press The 334 solar panels the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District installed on the rooftop and over the chlorine contact basins will produce enough energy to power the equivalent of 12 local homes. Above, plant manager Jered Primicerio takes a photo of the rooftop panels. He described them as 'plug-and-play.

KEY LARGO — The Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District is doing its part to help the state maintain a foothold in the top 10 solar capacity states by installing 334 panels at its main plant for its inaugural renewable energy project.

It’s also saving about $40,000 in annual energy costs.

The solar panels, which have been an initiative of Commissioner Steve Gibbs since at least 2014, began operating Jan. 25 and produced 214.04 kWh alone on Feb. 21.

The solar array should harness enough energy from sunlight to consistently power 12 average Florida Keys homes, according to district engineer Ed Castle.

Theresa Java/Free Press
Local dignitaries attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Thursday for the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District’s solar array system. From left, Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District Commissioners Sue Heim and Robby Majeska, Monroe County Mayor Sylvia Murphy, state Rep. Holly Raschein, R- Key Largo, KLWTD Chairman David Asdourian and Salt Energy CEO Chuck Meier.

The district initially conceived the solar array project last year as a smaller installation over the chlorine contact basins. The preliminary cost-saving concept was two-fold: reduce chemical evaporation while producing solar energy. But after the state Department of Environmental Protection awarded the sewer district $3,333,333 in Stewardship Funds for capital “green” improvement projects, the project grew.

The expanded project in its entirety has been funded approximately $386,600 by the DEP grant and at no cost to ratepayers.

“I am thrilled to see Key Largo Wastewater District committing to alternative energy through the installation of rooftop solar array panels at their main plant, and I am confident that they will continue this expansion through their other facilities,” said state Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo. “This truly serves as an example to other Florida Keys organizations to tap into renewable energy sources.”

The district projects $2.5 million in combined energy and chemical savings over the next 40 years, which is known as panel performance expectancy.

The main plant’s operations will consume an estimated $458,000 in energy by the end of the year.

“Over the course of the year, we’ll see about $40,000 in energy savings,” district manager Peter Rosasco said at a dedication ceremony last week. “We will be reducing our carbon dioxide footprint, equivalent to 3,324 trees taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.”

Upkeep costs should be minimal.

“There’s virtually no maintenance cost on these panels,” Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District Plant Manager Jered Primicerio said of the photovoltaic system. “They’re basically ‘plug-and-play’ and designed to withstand hurricanes.”

The district’s future solar projects may include rooftop arrays at its headquarters at mile marker 103, bayside, and at each of the six pumping stations, which would help defray annual energy costs totaling $738,600 energy in the 2018-19 fiscal budget.

By the end of last year, Florida returned to the top 10 for the first time since 2011 as the Sunshine State added the third most new solar capacity last year but is projected to boom in growth over the next five years, according to research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The Solar Energy Industries Association reports that 252,597 homes in Florida are powered by solar energy, which accounts for 1.07 percent of the state’s electricity produced by solar energy. SEIA projects Florida to move from eighth to second in its five-year growth projection.

For more information about the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District solar array project or any other of its capital improvement projects, visit klwtd.com.

tjava@keysnews.com