Shooting off model rockets from his family’s two-and-a-half-acre backyard is one of John Renfranz’s favorite childhood memories growing up in Okeechobee. His father, Donald Renfranz, laughed as he once watched John and his three sisters jump over the fence to retrieve a rocket that landed in the empty property adjacent to R Bar Estates.
“They ran after the rocket and had to avoid the white bulls, which did start to come after them,” Donald said with a chuckle. “To think there will be solar arrays out on that property now… it’s a great idea.”
From launching rockets to building forts and riding go carts, most of John’s free time as a boy was spent outdoors. When he was out of school for the summers, he could be found taking care of cows and building miles of fencing on his family’s Okeechobee ranch.
“The passion I have for the outdoors and my love of science led me down a career path of environmental science,” said John, who now works for Florida Power & Light Company as a Permitting and Licensing Team Manager for large-scale solar sites.
When John started at FPL in 2018, there wasn’t a single solar panel in operation in Okeechobee County. Five years later, FPL just presented the county with the ‘FPL Million Solar Panel Award’ now that the FPL Cavendish Solar Energy Center is officially serving customers.
This site joins FPL’s Lakeside, Okeechobee, and Fort Drum solar energy centers. The county’s panels are capable of powering approximately 60,000 homes with low-cost, reliable energy, while reducing carbon emissions equal to taking 56,000 cars off the road each year. And, because the solar sites use free fuel from the sun to produce electricity, they are central to FPL’s ability to provide customers with affordable bills now and in the future while strengthening Florida’s energy independence.
“Okeechobee County is on its way to being a zero-emissions county and the fact that we can provide residents with affordable clean energy is a great thing for my family and friends,” John said. “I’m excited to see more of it.”
John and his team are currently permitting more solar sites in Okeechobee and across Florida that will begin construction in the next few years. One of these sites, the FPL Speckled Perch Solar Energy Center, will sit next to the home where he was born and raised - the same land he would retrieve his rocket as a kid.
Even after he turned eleven and his family moved to a new home in Okeechobee, he dreaded the thought of houses being built on the cherished land as rumors of residential developments swirled throughout the tight-knit community.
“I went to the FPL Speckled Perch Solar Energy Center open house and saw some of my old neighbors,” John said while recalling the community's relief. “They were happy to know there will not be houses that they back up to or additional traffic and noise in their neighborhoods. Solar is a great neighbor.”
These four solar sites are just the tip of the spear for cutting edge technology and innovation in Okeechobee County. Upon expected completion at the end of this year, the FPL Cavendish NextGen Hydrogen Hub will be Florida’s first-of-its-kind ‘clean hydrogen’ facility – which uses solar energy to create hydrogen that will be compressed, stored, and mixed into existing natural gas infrastructure at the FPL Okeechobee Clean Energy Center. This will generate even cleaner electricity for customers.
“As we continue to develop solar within Okeechobee County, it's going to require strong partnerships with farmers, residents and county officials to make sure we’re developing solar in the right way,” John said as he gazed upon the thousands of solar panels lining the FPL Lakeside property. “I’m proud to be a part of a team that does the right thing.”
John’s parents and one of his sisters still live in Okeechobee County along with many extended family members. As an FPL customer for four decades, John’s father said he’s pleased to see the community he knows and loves is well on its way to being a solar leader in Florida.
“FPL is on the cutting edge of solar power on a very wide scale,” Donald said with a pair of sunglasses on to shade his eyes. “I’m very proud of the work my son has done, and that FPL has done as well.”