Solar farm approval recommended

Despite opposition from area residents, a proposed solar farm of Blanton Road in northeast Pasco County is a step closer to approval.

Pasco County’s Development Review Committee has recommended approval of an amended ordinance that opens the way for the project’s development.

Committee members agreed with the county’s planning department that the solar farm, located on agricultural land, would be consistent with Pasco’s land development code.

Pasco’s Planning Commission approved the project in April, in a 6-3 vote.

Tampa Electric operates a solar plant at Big Bend. The company is proposing to build a solar farm, on rural land, off Blanton Road, outside Dade City. (File)

The matter now goes before the Pasco County Commission for a public hearing in New Port Richey, set for May 22. The final vote on the issue is set for June 5 in Dade City.

Tampa Electric is proposing to install about 464,000 photovoltaic solar panels on about 350 acres, off Blanton Road and Frazee Hill.

The project is known as Mountain View Solar.

About a dozen people objected to the project during public comment at the development review committee’s May 10 hearing.

They cited the loss of scenic views in an area known for rolling hills and open spaces. They called for additional county study and workshops to give residents an opportunity for input regarding how and where solar farms should be approved.

County officials acknowledged that the code doesn’t specifically list where “solar electric power collection facilities” are permitted. Decisions were made based on a section dealing with uncertain classification rules.

As a result, solar farms were deemed suitable for agriculturally zoned areas, but they also need a special exemption permit. County officials said the approval process gives residents opportunities to raise objections and provide input on the project.

But, residents said the current process is insufficient.

“It’s almost a shotgun effect, instead of thinking and planning for it,” said resident Paul Boetcher.

Others agreed.

“This involves the whole county,” said resident Nancy Hazelwood. “It’s just not our area. How many solar farms are you going to put in each district? How are you going to control that?”

Resident Judy Geiger said the county seemed to be reacting, when there should be proactive measures.

“Hire a planner that knows solar,” she said. “Let’s do solar all at one time, instead of piecemeal.”

Electric company officials say, if approved, TECO plans to invest about $75 million in the solar farm, which is expected to produce about 53 megawatts of power.

Over the next decade, TECO plans to invest about $850 million in solar projects to produce energy for about 100,000 customers in Florida.

Revised May 17, 2018

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