CRYSTAL SPRINGS — Nearly 600 acres thought to have been the last working dairy farm in Pasco County will soon begin farming something different — sunlight.
In August, Tampa Electric Co. bought the old Palm River Dairy site in south eastern Pasco County in Crystal Springs for $7.6 million just weeks after the county approved using the land to construct solar panels that would generate 70 megawatts. The new solar farm is a part of the utility’s continuing focus on alternative energy.
Three years ago, Tampa Electric’s plans for a 55-megawatt solar farm on a 350-acre site in the Dade City area stirred up controversy. Residents objected, challenging the land use. Ultimately the utility prevailed but made some changes in their plan including setting aside a 40-acre portion of that parcel to protect an eagle’s nest on site.
That site, called Mountain View Solar, is north and west of the Pasco-Hernando State College East Campus. It is currently under construction and is expected to be completed by the end of the year, said Cherie Jacobs, utility spokeswoman.
The Palm River Dairy property is east of Paul S. Buchman Highway, south of Jerry Road, west of Saunders Road and north of County Line Road. The solar panels are expected to be spread over 133 acres of 344 acres of the site, county officials said, with the remaining 232 acres containing sensitive lands not planned for development.
Neighbors raised some 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, “This is part of our long-term strategy to build a clean, modern grid that is reliable, innovative and meets our customer’s needs. If all goes well, we hope the solar facility is complete and producing energy from the sun in 2023.”
Residents attending asked about how the plans would affect property values, whether having solar panels so close would heat up their properties and whether Tampa Electric would consider buying out their property. John Schulz, who lives at one corner of the Tampa Electric site, told the Pasco County Planning Commission that he was worried about falling property values and potential health impacts of living next to a solar farm.
Utility officials assured him that studies have shown that solar farms don’t lower the value of nearby properties and that there are no ill health effects created by solar farms. But Charles Grey, chairman of the Pasco County Planning Commission and a long-time realtor, said he didn’t agree that land values are not impacted by having a field of solar panels next door.
“I know what affects property values and what doesn’t,” he said, urging a set of requirements which would prevent nearby neighbors such as Shultz from having to look out their windows at solar panels. Planning commission members agreed, increasing the number of trees required between the solar panels and adjacent properties.
Planning commission member Chris Williams also noted one unique characteristic of Tampa Electric’s solar facilities — its lawn mowing crews. The utility uses sheep to keep the grass around the solar panels short.
Dubbed Juniper Solar by Tampa Electric, construction will start early next year and will be complete by the end of next year. “The location was selected because it is a large property and it’s close to our transmission lines, so it has suitable conditions,” Jacobs said.
“These two projects in Pasco County are part of our significant solar expansion,” she said. “We’re doubling the amount of solar power we have on our system by the end of 2023, to produce 14 percent of our electricity. At that time, we’ll have enough solar energy to power 200,000 homes — the most solar energy per customer of any utility in Florida.
“Our customers are asking for more renewable energy, and we’re proud of the cleaner, greener company we’re becoming.”