Solar Panels May Be Tested by Dorian’s Winds

By Joe Ryan and David R. Baker | September 3, 2019

Hurricane Dorian could be a rigorous test for the thousands of solar panels installed across Florida in recent years.

The Sunshine State ranks fifth in solar capacity in the U.S., with about 380,000 homes powered by panels, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Many could take a beating as Dorian hits the coast.

The storm, which was about 600 miles (965 kilometers) east of West Palm Beach Friday night, is expected to reach Category 4 status before it makes landfall, with winds exceeding 130 miles per hour. Florida, however, requires solar power plants to withstand wind speeds of at least 160 mph, according to the association.

The state’s largest utility, NextEra Energy Inc.’s Florida Power & Light, operates about 1,250 megawatts of solar across more than a dozen sites. When Hurricane Irma tore through the state in 2017, only 400 of the company’s 1 million panels in the storm’s path were damaged, said spokesman Peter Robbins. They were struck by flying debris, rather than being torn apart by the wind.

“They’re designed for high winds and weather, because we’re in Florida,” Robbins said. “If we don’t get a hurricane one year, we’ll get it the next.”

Duke Energy Corp. has about 100 megawatts of solar spread across a handful of sites in Florida, spokesman Randy Wheeless said. Most of those facilities, however, are on the Gulf Coast side or near the Georgia border, putting them largely out of the way of Dorian’s wrath. Nonetheless, the company is removing anything that isn’t bolted down.

“We’re basically clearing the sites of anything that could become airborne,” Wheeless said.

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