There are not many power plants in the rural area of County, but things may change very soon. A local law, the first of its kind in Florida, is pending adoption – one that will allow many more solar plants to be built.

The County Commission has a rare opportunity to revise the land-use plan and introduce an amendment that will particularly allow the building of facilities that use generated by photovoltaic panels to produce electricity.

The land-use plan is quite comprehensive, but it was adopted a while ago, in 1989. This means that it does not make a difference between solar fields and traditional facilities that generate power by burning coal, gas or oil. According to county planners, this distinction is very important because it would allow solar power plants to be built much more easily.

As county planners say, governments that do not address photovoltaic technology (the tech used in solar plants) specifically in their regulations pertaining to land development are hindering the progress of the solar industry. In other words, the current regulations are very prohibitive when it comes to solar industry investment and development in rural Manatee communities.

Of course, the county planners realized that the solar plants do not come with all the nasty effects that come with traditional generating plants. Solar panels do not pollute the environment and do not require high – and quite unsightly – smokestacks. Because they do not have such effects on nearby properties, solar plants should be seen as being different from fossil-burning plants.

The revision to the land-use plan has been granted a recommendation for approval from the Planning Commission last month. The planning commissioners have been given the recommendation to change the plan by Josh Philpott, a consultant for Inc. – a company that is specialized in the production of solar energy on an international level.

Currently, the land-use plan only allows Manatee residents to put solar panels on their buildings to generate solar power for their own use. And the only company to get special zoning for producing solar power is Florida Power & Light. Their solar facility is right next to their gas and oil plant in the city of Parrish.

Ecoplexus and many other companies are very interested in leasing or purchasing agricultural land to be used for solar power installations. The solar fields will be quite impressive, starting from around 30 acres and going up to a size of a couple hundred acres. This means that the companies are planning to generate vast quantities of solar energy from these fields. However, they need approval from the Planning Commission first.

The plan looks very good so far, with John Philpott telling the Planning Committee that, instead of growing crops, the agricultural land will be used to gather light from the Sun using PV panels and use it to generate usable, cheap electricity. It is still a form of farming, and one that does not damage the environment and has a very high yield.

In addition, the lease will be in effect for several decades, so the land can be returned to its agricultural use afterwards.

However, the companies need to be careful to build solar power plants with a capacity of up to 75 megawatts. Otherwise, they would need to ask for approval under the Power Plant Siting Act. But building multiple solar power plants, each with a capacity of up to 75 megawatts, is a feasible solution.

And it does not matter that it was Ecoplexus that asked for the land-use plan to be changed. The policy change will apply to every commercial entity that wants to develop solar plants in Manatee County, according to Margaret Tusing, a county planner. In addition, she added that the policy change is not site-specific.

Even though solar power plants are included in the policy change, wind turbines are not. It looks like the noise and the visual impact of a wind turbine on the properties near it cannot yet be tolerated. However, Ecoplexus was interested only in solar power facilities, and specifically stated that it did not seek to build any wind turbines in the area.

The next step is for the amendment to the land-use plan to get approval from Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The County Commission will then have a public hearing and will enact it. The land development code will then be updated and construction of new solar power plants can get on the way.

Ecoplexus and several other companies that operate in the solar energy industry have shown a clear desire to invest in rural areas of Manatee and build solar plants in the very near future, as soon as the codes are updated. These solar plants will create hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs in the community and will generate green solar energy. And seeing how the price per kilowatt of solar electricity is dropping every year, Manatee residents may be happy to pay a lower price for electricity in the near future.

Sources:

http://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20180402/in-manatee-policy-change-could-encourage-more-solar-energy-plant

http://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20170220/fpl-celebrates-new-solar-plants-commits-to-building-more

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