DADE CITY, Fla. -- After seven hours of heated and emotional debate, Pasco County leaders voted to grant Tampa Electric Company a permit to move forward with plans for a 350-acre solar farm on vacant land that borders Blanton Road just northwest of downtown Dade City.
Residents said they’re not against solar energy, but against solar panels across the street from their houses on a beautiful countryside.
The planed site is in a rural area with hills and scenic views frequented by many bikers. Locals say it’s a staple in their community, one of the most pristine lots of land in Pasco County.
“The area is one of the most beautiful in Pasco County," resident Doug Comet said. "These types of solar plants eat up vast amounts of land. They need to be in areas of the county where the land isn’t as valuable. Why would you put it on the best land in the county? Put it on the worst land."
TECO says it part of their plan to build 600 megawatts of solar power through a series of 10 projects.
“This Mountain View solar project is part of our significant expansion in solar power," TECO spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said. "In the next three years we’re going to be building 10 solar projects across our territory."
Residents pleaded with county leaders, insisting on the negative impacts.
“I specifically came here to tell you how it’s going to break my spirit and how this will crush me,” said Susan Minehart.
Like Minehart, neighbors are worried about how the solar panels could depreciate home values and endanger wildlife.
“I want to know how many oak trees are going to be cut down, because you can’t tell me that that doesn’t affect wildlife,” said Karen Destefano.
But county leaders say it’s an appropriate use of that land.
“Anytime you find a different location there’s always going to be somebody there that says you know this really isn’t the right spot,” said one city leader.
In response to concerns of a potential health risk, TECO promises that solar panels are clean efficient sources of energy.
“I don’t see how anyone can really say that with absolute certainty because I don’t think there’s enough data over a long period of time with this type of project being right next to a residential area. It’s just not an appropriate area,” Comet said.
With the plan now moving forward, residents are worried their hills and scenic views will be tarnished with solar panels guarded with barb wire and a chain link fence. In their eyes, the county voted to allow TECO a profit at their expense. TECO touts it as a benefit for everyone in the long run.
While the county voted to move TECO’s plan forward, the battle isn’t over yet.
Residents have to raise $2,500 and obtain 10 signatures to appeal the decision.
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