Here comes the sun

‘So­lar trees’ sprout across Florida in push to promote so­lar en­ergy

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Brooke Baitinger Staff writer

Florida Power & Light is plant­ing large de­vices across Florida that look like trees and har­ness the power of the sun to cre­ate elec­tric­ity.

The util­ity has be­gun in­stalling these 24-foot-tall, so­lar-pow­ered “trees” to bring at­ten­tion to the use of so­lar en­ergy.

Boyn­ton Beach in re­cent weeks in­stalled two of them at Ocean­front Park, 6415 N. Ocean Blvd., becoming the first city in Palm Beach County to of­fer the so­lar in­stal­la­tion as a public amenity.

In Davie, West Palm Beach and Mi­ami, FPL also has in­stalled so­lar “canopies,” larger de­vices that pro­vide shade over cars in park­ing lots, in ad­di­tion to gen­er­at­ing elec­tric­ity.

FPL’s pi­lot pro­gram, called So­larNow, kicked off two years ago, al­low­ing cus­tomers across the state to opt into a $9 ex­tra charge on their monthly bill to fund public so­lar­power gen­er­a­tion.

Be­cause such a large num­ber of Boyn­ton cus­tomers — more than

450 — opted in, FPL thought the city might be a good spot for the pub­licly funded trees.

Tall, bright blue and Yshaped, Boyn­ton’s so­lar trees have USB ports where park­go­ers may plug in to charge cell­phones and other de­vices.

The pres­ence of the so­lar trees gives the public a chance to learn more about the tech­nol­ogy, said FPL spokes­woman Alys Daly. “The great thing about these so­lar trees is that we’re lo­cat­ing them in com­mu­ni­ties where peo­ple have an op­por­tu­nity to see and learn about so­lar,” Daly said. “Many peo­ple haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced so­lar be­cause it’s out of sight on a rooftop some­where, but you can’t miss [the trees].”

In Boyn­ton, FPL soon will put the fin­ish­ing touch on the trees in the park: ed­u­ca­tional boards that ex­plain how light goes into the panel and is con­verted into en­ergy, she said.

“They are a tremen­dous ed­u­ca­tional tool for folks to see what so­lar en­ergy looks like and in­ter­act with in a way that they haven’t been able to be­fore,” she said.

Boyn­ton res­i­dents soon will start see­ing more so­lar en­ergy struc­tures around the city.

Of­fi­cials re­cently ap­proved plans for so­lar canopies at Ocean­front Park, and Bar­rier Free Park, 3111 S. Congress Ave., Daly said. They’ll be added within four months.

FPL also will pay the city about $4,000 per year to lease the land used for the so­lar struc­tures.

A so­lar tree costs be­tween $22,000 and $32,000, de­pend­ing on the struc­ture and style of the de­vice, Daly said. A 200-kilo­watt canopy costs about $950,000, she said.

Other South Florida cities are join­ing in on the ef­fort to promote so­lar en­ergy. On Tues­day, the Pom­pano Beach City Com­mis­sion gave ini­tial ap­proval to add so­lar trees and canopies in five lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the park­ing lots of City Hall, the Cul­tural Cen­ter and a fire sta­tion. The city also may up­grade the canopies to elec­tric car charg­ing sta­tions.

Last year, FPL in­stalled so­lar canopies at the Young at Art Mu­seum in Davie and the Palm Beach Zoo in West Palm Beach.

One of the so­lar trees in Ocean­front Park stands tall over the Tur­tle Cafe, where Solange Arias works.

The 34-year-old said she is ex­cited about the so­lar trees and the op­por­tu­nity they of­fer to promote so­lar power.

“I hope more and more peo­ple start to use them and they’re able to in­stall even more of them,” she said. “And as an added bonus, they just look so pretty.”

JOE CAVARETTA/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Boyn­ton Beach has in­stalled two 24-foot-tall so­lar trees at Ocean­front Park and of­fi­cials re­cently ap­proved plans for so­lar canopies.

PHO­TOS BY JOE CAVARETTA/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

A so­lar tree costs be­tween $22,000 and $32,000.

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