The Pasco County Commission has adopted an ordinance that will guide future decisions on where and how solar farms are permitted.
But, the controversy over a proposed solar farm in northeast Pasco County continues.
Commissioners approved the ordinance relating to placement of solar farms at their June 5 meeting in Dade City.
Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore, who supported the ordinance, said, “I feel not just as a county, but as a nation, we need to be less dependent on fossil fuel.”
The ordinance doesn’t settle what has been a controversial issue, however.
The county’s Planning Commission in April gave its stamp of approval to a special exception permit for Mountain View Solar Project. But, that decision is on hold until the county commissioners hear two appeals filed against the planning commission’s decision.
Tampa Electric Company, known as TECO, wants to install about 464,000 photovoltaic solar panels on about 350 acres, on both sides of Blanton Road. The solar farm would produce about 53 megawatts of power for TECO’s power grid.
The amended land use ordinance, adopted by the County Commission, codifies the county’s approach to regulating solar farms. Previously, the code did not deal directly with solar farms.
For the Mountain View project, county officials had to rely on a section designated for uncertain classification rules.
The newly amended ordinance permits solar farms as special exceptions in agricultural zones, and as permitted uses in some commercial and industrial zones. Future decisions on permitting would be left to county staff and the planning commission.
Many residents who live on and near Blanton Road, outside Dade City, are opposed to the solar farm. They also spoke against the ordinance on June 5.
They told county commissioners they worried about impacts of photovoltaic solar panels on water and soil, about damage from panels swept up during hurricanes, and how fires would be handled on site.
“I think we’re just moving too fast with this,” said Margaret Woods. “I don’t think they’ve been around long enough to know what the long-term effect will be.”
TECO representatives in contrast cited research that has shown photovoltaic panels are safe, and typically are located on agricultural land.
“It’s a very compatible use with agriculture,” said Rich Kirkland, a certified appraiser from North Carolina. He said he had reviewed about 400 solar projects, including about 10 in Florida.
Pasco County Commissioner Ron Oakley said solar farms wouldn’t work for all agricultural lands. But, the Blanton Road site, with nearby transmission infrastructure, seems suitable, he said.
However, Commissioner Jack Mariano found some of the residents’ comments persuasive regarding safety issues, especially the disposal of old solar panels as waste.
“This is probably the most complex, difficult decision I’ve had as a commissioner,” he said. “I’m not sure we have done everything we should to make the best ordinance for the county.”
However, he voted in favor of the ordinance after receiving assurance that the county’s ordinance, as written, could be defended against legal challenges.
In future votes, residents raised concerns about the ordinance’s provision to place authority for solar permits with county staff and the planning commission. County commissioners would only be involved in the event of appeals.
Resident Judy Geiger noted that an appeal cost $2,500 to file. Additional fees for transcripts and attorneys would easily push the cost to $5,000 or more, she said.
“That’s huge to many Pasco county residents,” Geiger said.
Residents also said the county wasn’t paying attention to overlay district protections for rural areas that are part of the county’s land use plan.
“All of us bought homes in this area because of the beauty,” said Laura Myers, who lives on Blanton. “You’re going to take that away. I don’t understand who benefits. It’s going to be an eyesore we all have to live through.”
Published June 13, 2018