Thursday, September 20, 2018
Business

Energy company plans solar farm in northeast Pasco

DADE CITY — An alternative energy company is proposing to build and operate a 90-acre, 15-megawatt solar panel farm in rural Pasco County.

ESA Renewables, headquartered in Castellón, Spain, is targeting property — purchased in 2016 by state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and his wife, Kathy — for a solar photovoltaic production facility.

The land, with a Ramsey Road address but abutting Blanton Road, previously had been owned by a subsidiary of Wells Fargo. It had been the proposed site of a controversial housing development called College Hill because of its close proximity to the Pasco-Hernando State College campus outside Dade City. That proposal never came to fruition after running into stiff opposition from local residents advocating for rural protections for the undeveloped northeast portion of the county.

"That's something I think we're probably going to like," one of those advocates, Nancy Hazelwood of Blanton, said about the proposed solar farm.

"I'd much rather have solar panels there than a bunch of houses and apartments," Jill Yelverton of Blanton, who also pushed the county to approve the rural northeast Pasco protections, said in agreement.

ESA Renewables' production facility would take up to 16 weeks to build "and then operate with nearly zero traffic activity for the next 30 years," according to the preliminary information it submitted to Pasco County. The company's senior project developer and chief technology officer were scheduled to meet Monday with Pasco County planners to discuss the project in what's known as a pre-application meeting.

The company, which has offices in Sanford, already has more than 500 solar production facilities in the United States, including in Winter Park and Orlando, and in Puerto Rico, Spain, Chile and Italy. Simpson declined to comment, citing a nondisclosure clause.

Nationally, an average of 164 homes can be powered by 1 megawatt of solar energy, though the number can fluctuate based on the amount of sunshine, household consumption, temperature and wind, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Using that criteria, the proposed plant in northeast Pasco could power roughly 2,460 homes. That would put it on par with ESA Renewables' recently announced plant in South Carolina's Aiken County, which the company described as an $11 million, utility-scale solar farm capable of powering almost 2,400 single-family homes annually.

ESA Renewables' proposal comes on the heels of the 2016 voter approval of Amendment 4 to the Florida Constitution, granting tax exemptions for solar energy equipment.

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