When you think of places that would be the biggest proponents of solar power you may think of Florida, the self-proclaimed Sunshine State, or other U.S southern states. However, that is not always the case. In parts of the Southeast you pay extra taxes and fees for solar equipment, so some places have become hostile to the idea of going solar. On the other hand, between Great Bay Distributors, Florida’s largest distributor of Anheuser-Busch products, and Tampa International Airport, there is a competition on who has the largest private solar panel system in the Sunshine State.

An array of 5,000 solar panels will be installed on the roof of Great Bay Distributors’ new warehouse. The 260,000-square-foot warehouse will have a 1.5 megawatt commercial system. “We’re doing it to save a ton of money chilling all this beer down,” according to Chief Operations Officer, Scott Penland. Great Bay sells about 11 million cases annually and refrigerate anywhere between 600,000 and a million cases a month.

The site of Great Bay Distributors new warehouse. Credit: Aerial Innovations

The site of Great Bay Distributors new headquarters. Credit: Aerial Innovations

Ron Petrini, CEO of the beverage supplier, insisted the entire project be American-made. The 2,300-watt solar panels will be manufactured by Suniva in Georgia and SMA America of California is providing 50 inverters. The project will employ around 30 people including roofers, electricians, engineers and other solar-industry personnel. Great Bay expects to reduce its electric bill by 40 percent. The solar power installation is guaranteed a 25-year lifespan and the $6 million would pay itself off in just six years.

“We’re really excited,” Penland said. “We know it’s a big capital investment but we’re looking to the future, looking to be a good environmental partner.”

The Tampa International Airport (TIA) is also sparking the news with an investment in solar power for the Sunshine State. 280,000 square feet of solar panels will be installed on the south economy parking garage. The 2-megawatt array will provide enough energy that is equivalent to powering about 250 homes. “This project will be a big investment for us in terms of learning,” said Tampa Electric’s President Gordon Gillette.

Canopy array of solar panels. Credit: Tampa Bay Business Journal

Canopy array of solar panels. Credit: Tampa Bay Business Journal

No parking spaces will be sacrificed in this project and more shade will be provided with the new parking canopy. The estimated cost for the 2-megawatt canopy is $5 million to $6 million.

Before installation, the project must be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. A major concern is the reflections of the panels interfering with the eyesight of air traffic controllers or pilots landing from the south.

Historically, Florida has been notorious for its lack of harnessing solar energy. The state ranks third in the U.S for solar potential, but 17th for cumulative installed solar capacity. “It’s a real injustice that the solar market in the Sunshine State is being held back,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “It basically is the largest untapped market in the United States.”

The success from Great Bay Distributors and Tampa International Airport could spur more investments in solar, both from the utility and from other businesses in the Tampa Bay area.