Polk Commissioners Reduce Size of Chicora Solar Farm

Tampa Electric’s plans to build a solar farm on three unconnected parcels around the historic Chicora community in southwest Polk will be downsized, the Polk County Commission voted 3-1 Tuesday.

The proposal is the latest in a series of approved and planned solar energy facilities TECO is planning in Polk and adjacent counties to increase its renewable energy portfolio.

However, a roomful of Chicora residents compared the collection of parcels wrapping around groups of rural homesites to an anaconda suffocating its prey.

They questioned how compatible the solar farm—even if it is buffered as proposed—would be when it lies across many residents’ back fences.

Residents said they favor solar power, but wanted it to be located farther from their homes.

The compromise commissioners agreed to will eliminate the sections of the solar farms closest to homes and in the middle of Chicora, leaving the sites south of Albritton Road and northeast of the South Prong of the Alafia River. Commissioner John Hall’s dissenting vote came after he said he thought the entire project was incompatible with the community.

TECO officials could not tell commissioners Tuesday whether the reduction in the size of the solar farm will affect the project’s viability.

They said they selected sites based on its proximity to power lines and the developability of the property, which rules out a lot of slime ponds and other mined lands in the area.

TECO officials also earlier told Polk officials that they are scaling the solar farms to a size that requires only local planning review and does not trigger a more extensive review of the Florida Power Plant Siting Act.

Solar farms have been previously approved in a number of locations in the Lakeland and Bartow areas and in Fort Green. More applications are pending the Bartow-Mulberry area.