Vintage Sarasota: A History of Florida Power and Light

Electricity was often unreliable in the early years of Florida Power and Light.

By Larry Kelleher May 18, 2015

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Courtesy of Sarasota County Historical Resources

When the Florida Power and Light plant at Payne Terminal went on line in January 1946, the supply of electrical power to the residents of Sarasota was in stark contrast to that of the early years. As was true for a number of the first electrical plants in Florida, Sarasota's early electrical companies also produced ice. After the government of the newly incorporated town of Sarasota issued a permit in 1902 to build a plant, the Sarasota Ice, Fish and Power Company constructed a facility at Fifth (now State) Street and Lemon Avenue. The company produced electricity primarily to run its ice-making machine.

In The Story of Sarasota, Karl Grismer tells of the halting progress Sarasota made into the electrical world. Having experienced little benefit from the first power company, in 1909 voters granted a 30-year franchise to H.P. Porter who organized the Sarasota Ice and Power Company, which installed two street lights (one at Five Points and one at Main and Palm) and strung wires in the business and central residential sections. Power was on in the evening until midnight, except on moonlit nights. Not until the end of 1911 was daytime power available, and then only from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m., for breakfast. The next advance came in the middle of 1916; electric current became available from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays for ironing.

Before Porter's plant was in operation for even one-third of the time specified in the franchise, Sarasota's voters decided to replace it with another since they were tired of the poor quantity and quality of the service. Finally, in June 1920, Sarasotan's had electricity around the clock. As a result of the rapidly growing population and construction experienced in the early 1920s, voters passed a series of bond issues to pay for improvements to the existing plant, extension of wires, and construction of two new plants.

Before the second new plant was completed, however, the city sold it to the new Florida Power and Light Company. The power plant was sold not because citizens believed FPL could do a better job than the city in providing power, but because the city was looking for money to dredge a deep channel through New Pass into Payne Terminal (now the boat-launching area of Centennial Park). The $1 million sale was the talk of the town.

Before World War II was over, Florida Power and Light began construction of its first major generating plant on Florida's west coast. Located just north of Payne Terminal in Sarasota (which never materialized as a deep-water port), the 18,000 Kilowatt steam turbine generating plant went into operation January 18, 1946.

Within five years, to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population, an addition to the plant doubled its capacity. Sarasotan's continued to receive electricity from this plant until it was decommissioned at the end of 1965.

Special thanks to Ann A. Shank, former Sarasota County Historian, for her research and time devoted to writing this article. Provided by Sarasota History Alive"Where History Happens Everyday!"

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