NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County on Monday night green-lighted a proposed Tampa Electric solar farm to be built on 350 acres in the rural east side of the county.
The decision from the appointed Planning Commission came after more than five hours of sometimes emotional testimony before a standing-room-only crowd at the West Pasco Government Center.
The commission voted 6-3 to grant a so-called special exception to allow the solar farm in the largely agricultural area of Blanton, northwest of Dade City. About 250 acres of the land is owned by state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and his wife, Kathy.
The public objections focused largely on aesthetics in the district designated by Pasco County as a rural protection area that carries additional development controls to safeguard the area's rolling hills and scenic vistas. Thirty-nine speakers came to the podium and all but four opposed the plan to put 470,000 solar panels — each measuring two feet across and four feet deep — on a hill with an incline that neighbors said rivaled a 14-story building.
"This is clean energy, however there is a term called visual pollution,'' said Gregory Ostovich of Spring Valley Road. "I look at this as just spewing huge amounts of visual pollution in our area that trees will not hide.''
A majority of the commission agreed with Tampa Electric, however, which pointed out the project would produce clean, renewable energy while having no impact on the water, sewer, solid waste or transportation facilities.
The plant would produce 57 megawatts of electricity, part of the company's plan to install 6 million solar panels in 10 sites over the next three years. The Pasco project is expected to be completed by the end of the year and represents a $78 million investment in solar energy.
Contact C.T. Bowen at email@example.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2