New Pasco solar park by Tampa Electric planned for Crystal Springs

CRYSTAL SPRINGS – Almost 600 acres that would have been the last operating dairy farm in Pasco County will soon start growing something different – sunlight.

In August, Tampa Electric Co. bought the former Palm River Dairy site in southeast Pasco County in Crystal Springs for $ 7.6 million just weeks after the county approved use of the land. to build solar panels that would generate 70 megawatts. The new solar farm is part of the utility’s continued focus on alternative energies.

Three years ago, Tampa Electric’s plans for a 55-megawatt solar farm on a 350-acre site in the Dade City area sparked controversy. Residents objected, contesting the use of the land. In the end, the utility prevailed, but made a few changes to their plan, including setting aside a 40-acre portion of that parcel to protect an eagle’s nest in place.

This site, called Mountain View Solar, is to the north and west of the east campus of Pasco-Hernando State College. It is currently under construction and is expected to be completed by the end of the year, said Cherie Jacobs, spokesperson for utilities.

The Palm River Dairy property is located east of the Paul S. Buchman Freeway, south of Jerry Road, west of Saunders Road and north of County Line Road. The solar panels are expected to be spread across 133 acres of the site’s 344 acres, county officials said, with the remaining 232 acres containing sensitive land that is not expected to be developed.

Big Bend Tampa Electric Solar Farm at Apollo Beach. [ Tampa Electric Co. ]

Neighbors raised concerns about the proposal and Tampa Electric held a virtual public meeting in April to answer questions and explain the project. In the announcement letter to the community, the utility wrote: “It is part of our long term strategy to build a clean and modern network that is reliable, innovative and meets the needs of our customers. If all goes well, we hope that the solar installation will be complete and will produce energy from the sun in 2023. ”

Residents in attendance asked how the plans would affect property values, whether having solar panels so close would heat their properties, and whether Tampa Electric would consider buying their property back. John Schulz, who lives in a corner of the Tampa Electric site, told the Pasco County Planning Commission he was concerned about declining property values ​​and the potential health impacts of living next door. of a solar farm.

Utilities officials assured him that studies have shown that solar farms do not lower the value of neighboring properties and that there are no adverse health effects created by solar farms. But Charles Gray, chairman of the Pasco County Planning Commission and longtime real estate agent, said he disagreed that the value of the land was unaffected by the presence of a field of solar panels next to it.

“I know what affects property values ​​and what doesn’t,” he said, urging a set of requirements that would prevent close neighbors like Shultz from having to look out their windows at them. solar panels. Members of the planning committee agreed, increasing the number of trees needed between the solar panels and adjacent properties.

Planning committee member Chris Williams also noted a unique feature of Tampa Electric’s solar installations – its lawn mowing crews. The utility uses sheep to keep the grass short around the solar panels.

Dubbed Juniper Solar by Tampa Electric, construction will begin early next year and be completed by the end of next year. “The location was chosen because it is a large property and is close to our transmission lines, so it has suitable conditions,” said Jacobs.

“These two projects in Pasco County are part of our important solar expansion,” she said. “We are doubling the amount of solar energy we have on our system by the end of 2023, to produce 14% of our electricity. By that time, we’ll have enough solar power to power 200,000 homes – the most solar power per customer of any utility in Florida.

“Our customers are asking for more renewable energy, and we’re proud of the cleaner, greener business we are becoming. “

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