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Solar Farms in Our Community – Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson

Our District is seeing an uptick in solar farms. I support solar farming. We need energy and it needs to be sustainable for us and our future generations.

This week I attended a meeting at the Town of Fort White Council, in which a Texas company named CORE was getting neighborly explaining their intention to get a solar farm permitted between Fry Road and US 27.     

Utility companies are building these new solar farms just shy of 75 megawatts, which tend to use nearly 1000 acre, as to avoid major oversight and permitting from the Florida Department of Environmental (FDEP) Protection Power Plant Siting Act. An Environmental Resource Permit (ERP) is still required under FDEP and potential permitting from Columbia County may be necessary. However, years ago Columbia County updated their Comprehensive Planning Book and Land Development Regulations (LDRs) to allow for solar farms in AG-3 zoning.  The Town of Fort White has no permitting authority, as this location is outside their jurisdiction. There are several more solar fields being built by different utility company north of I-10 corridor in Columbia County.

Though Duke Energy will be the recipient of this energy, I asked the representative, who is working on the organizing of this plan, about hiring local contractors and workers. She could not say who would be hired to do this, but she explained they do like to keep it local if possible.

This construction will use about 300 workers and two permanent staffers. When construction begins, it will take approximately 9 months. Ancillary businesses such as lodging, convenience stores, restaurants and hardware stores will experience more business during the project time period. Work here will begin in 2019, barring no unforeseen issues. There are upgrades and changes associated with these farms during their lifespan.

“Proportionally, solar employment accounts for the largest share of workers in the Electric Power Generation sector. This is largely due to the construction related to the significant buildout of new solar generation capacity. Solar technologies, both photovoltaic and concentrating, employ almost 374,000 workers, or 43 percent of the Electric Power Generation workforce.”

Interesting that this is a Duke Energy build out. I wish them the best in powering Florida on solar versus dirty fossil fuels in coal and gasification. These types of projects are making fracked-gas  infrastructure projects more and more obsolete, something we — the ones who live here — all tried to tell the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) years ago when permitting and eminent domain was under way for Sabal Trail gas transmission pipeline.

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Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Power Plant Siting Act
https://floridadep.gov/air/siting-coordination-office/content/power-plant-siting-act

Pg. 28. US Energy and Employment Report, January 2017
https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2017/01/f34/2017%20US%20Energy%20and%20Jobs%20Report_0.pdf

MMJ