Solar farm closer to powering up
It may have taken hours, but a major power company was granted a zoning change that would allow it to install a solar power facility in West Putnam County.
Florida Power & Light won its public hearing Tuesday, with the Board of County Commissioners voting 4-1 to change the zoning for property on Coral Farms Road – 1 mile north of State Road 100 – in Florahome from agriculture to planned unit development.
The power company intends to build a 74.5-megawatt facility to harness solar power and transform it into electricity.
FPL spokesman Jim Bush said the company has been working since 2001 to replace “older, less efficient fossil units” equipment and reduce its carbon emission. The proposed solar farm is another step in FPL’s mission to be more environmentally friendly, he said.
“The Coral Farms project, which we’re here to discuss today, is another important step to continuing our commitment to clean energy and the environment,” Bush said. “We’re very excited about this project. We believe it’s a great thing for the county, for the state as well as for FPL.”
The solar farm also found support from the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, with its vice president for economic development, Brian Bergen, asking the commission to approve the zoning change.
Building a solar farm in the area would increase the county’s property tax base and could also entice companies seeking green technology to move to the county.
“We do have requests for clients coming in (asking) if there is alternative energy available and what that might be and what that might look like,” Bergen said. “Certain companies like the green tag and will pay the premium for alternative energy so they can get those tax credits.”
Most commissioners may have approved the zoning change to allow the solar farm, but the public hearing was not without contention.
Residents from abutting properties said the solar farm is a good idea, but they aren’t amenable to giving up part of their properties for a right-of-way to allow FPL to build transmission lines.
Those residents told commissioners the above-ground transmission lines could also negatively impact a dairy farm near the proposed solar farm.
Neighbors and FPL officials said they’d been negotiating the zoning change for months, but the neighbors – and Interlachen attorney Michael Woodward, speaking on behalf of Michael and Debra Griffin – said the residents never wanted the lines above ground.
“We never intended to not support this solar farm activity,” Michael Griffin said. “We wanted to totally support this solar farm activity. Where we’re having great difficulty is that we are now hearing that we must provide a right-of-way across our land in order for their project to be successful.”
While they said they took the residents’ concerns seriously, most commissioners noted the public hearing was for a specific purpose: to determine whether the property met the criteria to be planned unit development.
It met that criteria, some commissioners agreed, so the board had to approve the zoning change, especially after land use attorney Staci Rewis of Gunster law firm in Jacksonville read state statute stating local communities couldn’t mandate how power companies transmitted power.
The lone vote against the zoning change, Commissioner Larry Harvey said he could not simply factor in only zoning requirements during the zoning change public hearing.
Neighbors in the area, including the dairy farm, are likely to be negatively affected, so more negotiations between the two parties needed to happen before the board made its vote, Harvey said.
“I would love to say I wholly support the solar farm, and I do in the PUD,” he said. “But I don’t support taking someone’s lands or doing transmission on it. Even though we can’t regulate that … it just sits wrong with me. And it sits wrong with a lot of me.”
Commissioner Nancy Harris and other board members encouraged the neighbors and FPL officials to continue negotiations about the property.
Voluntary give-and-take would likely be better for the residents, she said, than FPL ultimately acquiring the property though eminent domain, where the needed properties could be taken and compensation given to the neighbors.
“The best thing would be if the two parties could get together and come to an agreement,” Harris said. “If the one party could understand the need of the other party … that would be the very best way to do that.”