This controversial proposal is one step closer to finalization. Environmentalists, who almost always support solar as clean energy, are divided on this issue.
This weighs the issue of environmental justice vs. the possibility of residential development at a later date. The Alachua County C0mmission voted against the permit a few months ago.
The Gainesville Sun has not provided a link to this article.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum
Plan board approves solar project near Archer
Emily Mavrakis Gainesville Sun | USA TODAY NETWORK
April 23, 2021
A solar array project near Archer that would feed power to Gainesville Regional Utilities is one step closer to seeing the light of day following approval by the Alachua County Planning Commission despite opposition from residents in the area.
The planning commission reheard presentations on the Sand Bluff Solar array in a six-hour meeting Wednesday evening, after it previously approved the project in February. Another meeting had to be scheduled following the February one because additional nearby property owners had to be notified of the public hearing and workshops.
Planning board members voted 4-3 on a motion to recommend to county commissioners that the solar project be approved after the applicant, Miami-based Origis Energy, discussed the project’s merits and several community members spoke out against it. The local chapter of the NAACP and the Sierra Club also have submitted statements opposing the project.
Planning Commissioner Jason Teisinger, who voted in favor of the solar project, said he thinks recent studies support that solar farms are safe for the environment and are less likely to pollute the surrounding neighborhoods than industrial farming would.
“Having an [agricultural] parcel near your house is one of the most uncertain things to have, because in all likelihood, once development start to creep towards you, it’s going to get developed,” he said.
One of the planning commissioners, James Ingle, voted against the measure in part because if SB 856 passes in the Florida Legislature, local governments would be preempted from blocking or restricting construction of “energy infrastructure,” including the production and distribution of electricity.
“If I lived in an agricultural area, and that is what I wanted to preserve, this would be my favorite way of going about doing it,” Ingle said. “But I don’t live in an agricultural area. It’s not my community. The community that is here seems to be pretty dead set against it. I want to say, I believe very strongly you have gotten bad information on what this means for your area… however, I think it’s important you feel heard, that you aren’t bulled over. I’m OK voting no on this because I don’t think it matters… I think the power to make any decision like this at all on this kind of board is probably going to be gone in less than a month.”
If the bill does not pass, the Alachua County Commission will give the final vote on whether to grant a special exception to the county’s unified land development code for a major utility at an upcoming meeting on June 10.
Origis Energy is requesting the special exception for the Sand Bluff Solar array, on about 638 acres just outside Archer city limits. Because the land is zoned for agriculture, the County Commission needs to grant the special exemption for the project to take place.
The proposed project site is located north of County Road 346 near the city of Archer.
The majority of the Sand Bluff Solar site is undeveloped, with other agricultural sites, wetlands and large lot residential properties surrounding it.
If developed, the array will connect to the distribution grid via an existing Gainesville Regional Utilities substation located south of Archer Road. At maximum output, the array would produce approximately 50 megawatts of electricity.
For comparison, the maximum output for all GRU plants is about 513 megawatts at maximum output from its four operating plants.
About 20 community members provided written public comment to commissioners ahead of the plan board meeting against the project, and Gainesville attorney Nathan Skop spoke on behalf of 30 parties against the solar array.
He said the Sand Bluff Solar project should be compared with the FirstSolar project north of incorporated Archer, which the planning and county commissions denied an exception for last October.
County commissioners voted 3-2 against the project in part because it was near an historically Black community, including a cemetery. The two board members who voted in favor of that project, Robert Hutchinson and Mike Byerly, have since been replaced by new members.
The local NAACP chapter and Sierra Club are among the groups that provided public comment against the Sand Bluff Solar project, in part because many of the families who live in adjacent properties are Black and have lived there for generations.
“This is exactly what social injustice and environmental injustice looks like,” Skop said. “You have an opportunity to do the right thing and be on the right side of history here.”
Archer city commissioners also said the land would be better used for residential development, in keeping with its surroundings.
Residents also said they’re concerned about the environmental impact — protected gopher tortoises have been found on the site — and they worry about potential water contamination if panels are damaged in a storm and chemicals leak into wells. And as Clay Electric customers, they said, they won’t even be able to benefit from the GRU array….