Lakeland Electric is celebrating the opening of its fourth solar farm.

  • Lakeland Electric opened their fourth solar energy farm
  • New facility could help them serve another thousand homes
  • Local experts say there are still flaws with solar energy being reliable

As a public power utility company, Lakeland Electric serves around 120,000 customers in Polk County. It partnered with NRG Energy on it's newest solar farm location, and buys the electricity from them.

“We’re looking to expand our portfolio of fuel," said Cindy Clemmons, Lakeland Electric’s marketing director. "Solar energy is definitely something in the sunshine state that we want to invest in."

The 65-acre solar farm has approximately 11,000 panels off of Old Medulla Road in southwest Lakeland. On a sunny day, it’s expected to generate enough energy to power more than a thousand homes.

It’s not just the energy companies investing in solar. Solar panel companies, like SEM Power, say more and more people are buying solar panels for their home.

Former New Yorkers Paul and Gail Laoria are some of their recent clients.

“It’s really a no-brainer,” said Paul. “We were paying, let's say, an average of $185 a month to Duke. And now it's close to that same price -- paying off the solar panels for 12 years each month. At the end of 12 years, we own the panels.”

SEM Power installed Laoria's. The company's vice president, Chris Rollitt, said solar panels provide several advantages to homeowners, including increased property value.

“The cost of the systems have come down to a reasonable level," said Rollitt. "We do have that 30 percent tax credit."

For the Laorias, it’s cost effective.

“On a sunny day, we’ll generate close to 70 kilowatt,” said Paul. “We only use 35 kilowatt, so that’s eight months out of the year we’re generating more electricity than we’re using on a nice day.”

Lakeland Electric said that’s the issue. Every day isn’t always sunny and that’s the reason it can’t solely depend on solar energy.

“It’s intermittent," said Clemmons. "You can’t depend on the sun to be shining constantly."

“The way the science works right now," she added, "when the sun is shining, we’re pulling a lot of power from the sun. But when it’s not, we can’t do anything about that. We also don’t have a way to store it.“

Right now, natural gas is the main energy source for Lakeland Electric, along with coal. According to Clemmons, 2 percent of the company’s energy source is solar energy.