Tampa Electric Company (TECO) has obtained permission to proceed with a solar farm generating up to 74.7 megawatts on a 576-acre site, east of Paul S. Buchman Highway, south of Jerry Road, west of Saunders Road and north of County Line Road, in unincorporated Zephyrhills.
The request is part of the electric company’s long-term strategy to build a grid that is reliable and meets its customer’s needs, according to background materials in the application file.
In approving the request, the Pasco County Planning Commission increased the buffering requirements to provide a better screen for residential neighbors to the site. To accomplish that, commissioners are requiring more trees to be planted to reduce visibility of the solar farm to neighbors living adjacent to the site.
Electric company officials hope to have the facility completed and producing energy by 2023, according to agenda background materials.
The solar farm will use film photovoltaic (PV) panels that absorb sunlight and directly produce electricity. It will be on a 576-acre site that includes the Palm River Dairy Farm and some single-family dwellings.
Conditions for approval included minimum setbacks, buffering requirements and noise regulations.
The solar farm will be located in the southeastern portion of unincorporated Pasco County.
The solar farm will consist of 133 acres of panels spread out over about 350 acres. The panels will be organized in arrays, and there will be grassy areas in between and beneath the solar arrays. Those grassy areas will be grazed by sheep.
The site is located next to Martin Marietta Materials, which uses are aggregate transfer facility, asphalt plant, rail spur, aggregate sorting and conveyance system, storage yard, sales and operational offices.
The solar farm will be unmanned and will be remotely monitored.
Under the conditions for approval, the applicant must provide a decommission plan for the site, which may be reviewed and approved by the county administrator or his designee.
If the applicant ceases operations or the solar farm no longer works properly or is abandoned, the applicant is responsible for decommissioning the solar farm within 180 days.
The decommissioning shall include the removal and disposal of all material and equipment, in a manner that is consistent with industry standards and practices.
The site also must be restored to the condition that existed immediately following the initial site clearing and grading, according to background materials.
During the public hearing, one neighbor raised concerns about the potential impacts from the solar farm, including the potential for diminishing the value of his property, and the possible unknown health consequences.
Kristin Mora, an attorney representing TECO, cited research a research paper from the North Carolina State Clean Energy Technology Center, which concluded that solar farms are deemed a human health hazard.
She also cited research that determined that solar farms do not diminish property values.
Planning Commission Chairman Charles Grey, however, disputed the finding regarding property values.
“That’s my area of expertise. I’ve been in the business for 50 years,” Grey said. “I know what affects property values and what doesn’t. I don’t think anybody in this room could say, in all honesty, that they’d love to live next to a solar panel site.
“I know that we’re trying to develop them (solar farms). I know that we’re looking toward that type of energy, but if we’re going to do it, we’re going to have to pay the price to do it. I don’t think we should expect the neighbors to pay the price.
“Personally, I think, if it were up to me, they should have to be compensated for the amount of decrease in value their property may experience because I think they will experience it,” the planning board chairman concluded.
He also advocated for additional buffering to shield adjacent residential properties from the visual impacts of the solar farm.
Chief Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein said the planning board had the discretion to impose more substantial buffering requirements than recommended by planning staff.
“My personal feeling is that it should be not visible from the adjoining residence property owner. If I lived there, I certainly wouldn’t want to look out my backyard and see a bunch of solar panels,” Grey said.
Planning Commissioner Jaimie Girardi agreed, making a motion to approve the solar farm, but require more trees to be planted — to provide a greater degree of opacity.
Planning board members approved the motion, contingent on the conditions and the increased buffering requirement.
Published June 16, 2021