Tampa Electric’s run to harness the sun is continuing in southern Hillsborough County.
Tampa Electric, a subsidiary of TECO Energy, is seeking permission from the Hillsborough County Commission to turn nearly 105 vacant acres at U.S. 41 and Big Bend Road into a solar farm. As a precursor to development, the utility needs a change to the county’s comprehensive land plan.
The property, totaling five parcels, currently is categorized as community mixed-use 12, a designation that allows more than 1,200 homes or up to 650,000 square feet of retail space. The utility wants to change the land category to exclude residential and most commercial, but allow heavy industrial use. The first public hearing on the company’s request is scheduled for Jan. 13.
If approved, construction is scheduled to begin this year as part of the utility’s solar expansion. It will be the company’s sixth solar project in Hillsborough. So far, Tampa Electric has built 10 solar farms in southern Hillsborough and Polk counties and has plans to build two in eastern Pasco County and another in Polk.
“By the end of 2023, we’ll have enough solar energy to power 200,000 homes, which will be the highest percentage of solar power of any utility in the state,” said utility spokesperson Cherie Jacobs.
The location of the site, in the rapidly developing south county, drew notice from commissioners during a December workshop.
“This is arguably one of the worst traffic intersections in the county,” said Commissioner Mariella Smith. “How would this land-use change add to that problem or help that problem?”
An initial transportation analysis showed a net reduction of new daily traffic for the solar farm compared to residential or large-scale commercial development.
“I think it would be excellent news to hear that it’s a solar farm. It seems like a good fit for that area,” said Commissioner Pat Kemp.
The company plans to use about 90 of the 105 acres for the solar project to produce 14.5 megawatts of renewable energy, enough power for about 2,400 homes, said Jacobs. That makes it slightly smaller than the company’s existing 106-acre solar farm in Apollo Beach, which produces 20 megawatts capable of powering 3,300 homes.