Saturday Feb 04, 2023

Nearly 20,000 Boxes And Pallets Turned Into Mulch At McDavid Solar Energy Site –


There were nearly 10,000 refrigerator-sized boxes and the same number of wooden pallets that needed disposal after solar panels were installed off Bogia Road in Escambia County.

The solar panels were installed at Florida Power & Light’s large-scale Cotton Creek Solar Energy Center in McDavid.

Always on the hunt for solutions, FPL Senior Project Manager Matt McCord came up with an environmentally friendly, cost-saving way to deal with the mountain of refuse by repurposing it and returning the materials back to the Earth.

After some 200,000 to 250,000 solar panels were bolted into their frames at Cotton Creek Solar Energy Center, a large grinder chewed up the wooden pallets and cardboard boxes, spitting out the nails into a container. A steady spray of finely chewed-up cardboard and wood spewed out of a conveyor belt, creating a mound of ready-to-spread mulch that is said to be perfect for supporting the growth of grass and wildflower seeds.

“The mulch is a great stabilizer and promotes the grass to grow, which causes the mulch to decompose even faster,” he said. “The wildflowers and other vegetation are planted to transform the solar energy sites into stewardship sites that support wildlife and pollinators.”

Mulching replaces the costlier and less eco-friendly methods of discarding the tons of packaging into landfills and legally burning the wooden pallets. That, McCord said, would have cost about $180,000 for the McDavid site.

“All of that takes manpower and trucks,” McCord remarked. “The new method costs about $50,000 per solar site. Plus, we’re not burning or sending this material to the landfill. We’re working to reduce our carbon footprint through our 30-by-30 solar plan and the retirement of coal. By the time we’ve completed the 30-by-30 plan, you’re talking in the ballpark of $10 million in savings. This is good for the environment and saves our customers money.”

The 30-by-30 plan calls for the installation of 30 million solar panels statewide by 2030 to reduce carbon emissions and create a more sustainable energy future while meeting the growing electricity needs of customers.

Initially, McCord looked into different options – composting offsite and selling the compost and composting on the solar sites and hauling waste off.

“That’s when I thought, what if we mulch it on-site and never move it?” he said. “Let it compost and go back to nature. All we have to do is spread the mulch out. And in a few days, we put seed down and we have grass growing, and we have a very cheap and environmentally friendly solution. After a year’s time, you can’t see the mulch anymore because it goes back to nature.”

FPL’s environmental team vetted and advised on the process based on federal and state regulations. McCord said all boxes and pallets verified to be free of paint and chemicals in accordance with the US Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program regulations can be mulched.

FPL says the same mulching process will be used later this year at the First City Solar Energy Center, a second solar site to build in North Escambia off Holland, Cox and Roach roads in McDavid.

Photos for, click to enlarge.


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