Solar farms appear to be becoming the dominant land use in Chicora, a community founded in the 19th century in southwestern Polk County.
Tuesday the Polk County Commission voted 3-2 to approve a proposal by Tampa Electric to add two more parcels to the two parcels already approved for solar farms. The solar farms are part of TECO’s move to increase its green energy footprint in this part of Florida.
The controversy wasn’t over the merits of solar power, but the fact that one of the solar farm tracts is right in the middle of the community on the site of a former citrus grove.
Residents argued the facility is an unwelcome intrusion that changes the character of their community.
TECO officials and their consultants responded that the solar farm would be a much less intensive land use in terms of traffic, noise and water use than any alternative.
During the hearing TECO officials did agree to relocate the barbed-wire-topped security fences deeper into their property and buffer the fence and the solar complex with a thick planting of cedar trees. In response to residents’ complaints about the esthetics. TECO officials also promised to work with the community toward their application to obtain a historic designation for the community.
The vote came during the first week of the 2021 session of the Florida Legislature during which legislation has been proposed to pre-empt local officials’ ability to decide on the location of solar farms as long as they’re in agriculturally zoned areas of the county. The legislation also doubles the size of solar farms allowed to be exempted from state power plant siting regulations.