Breaking News
More () »

Tampa Bay and Sarasota's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | Tampa Bay and Sarasota, FL | WTSP.com

High-voltage neighbors: Inside Tampa Bay's solar energy boom

As solar energy becomes more and more common across Florida, more communities may need to learn to live next to industrial-sized solar farms.

TAMPA, Fla. – It was standing room only in the Pasco County Commissioners’ meeting last April.

Many in the room came to speak out against plans for a 350-acre solar farm for Tampa Electric Company, but after seven hours of heated debate and public comment the commission approved the project.

As solar energy becomes more and more common across Florida, and with Tampa Electric planning to expand its use of solar power significantly in the next three years, more communities may face similar discussions about these industrial-sized solar farms.

“Tampa Electric has a very large expansion of solar power planned over the next three years,” said Tampa Electric spokesperson Cherie Jacobs. “We’ll be installing 600 megawatts, ten projects across our territory. That’s enough power to fuel one hundred thousand homes.”

“Folks who live near proposed solar projects have various responses. Some folks welcome it, some folks [are] not so welcoming,” added Jacobs. “These solar plants make very good neighbors. They make no noise, they have no emissions, they don’t use water and they don’t create traffic for the community.”

And it’s worth noting that not everyone has a problem with the idea of living next to a solar farm.

“We’d rather that than subdivisions,” said Steve Paynter, who has lived on his property in Hillsborough County for more than 25 years and recently learned one of TECO’s solar farms is going in next door.

“We found out about it through the grapevine, really,” he said. “Just neighbors trying to figure out what was going on and then heard it was sold and then heard it was going to be a solar farm, which is fine with us.”

RELATED: Solar co-op forms in St. Pete

But just because TECO is putting in all these new solar panels (over six million of them), don’t expect to see your electricity bill go down anytime soon.

“The ten solar projects that we’re building, each project will add about a dollar to a customers’ bill every month,” said Jacobs. “As they phase in, however, that’s balanced by the fuel savings because the fuel for a solar plant is free.”

“Our customers have been asking for renewable energy and the prices have come down on the solar panels and the timing is just perfect for this type of expansion for our customers,” she added. “This is a way for us to reduce the carbon generated by our power fleet, and clean, green, renewable energy, not only is good for our customers, it’s good for the environment and it’s the right thing to do.”

►Make it easy to keep up-to-date with more stories like this. Download the 10News app now.

Have a news tip? Email desk@wtsp.com, or visit our Facebook page or Twitter feed.