Solar park proposed for edge of prairie draws critics
Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 9:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 9:54 p.m.
A planned solar array that would sit near the northern rim of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park has elicited concern from nearby residents worried by the commercial encroachment into an area that is home to diverse wildlife.
Sybac Solar, a German firm, plans to erect the 1-megawatt solar field, tentatively called Prairie View Solar Park, on an approximately nine-acre property and sell the renewable energy it generates to Gainesville Regional Utilities, said Artur Madej, president of the company.
The solar park is slated to participate in GRU’s Solar Feed-in-tariff Program, which establishes 20-year, fixed-price contracts with customers who sell their solar-generated electricity to the utility.
The array has to be completed by Dec. 31, which is the program’s deadline, said Rachel Meek, business efficiency program coordinator for GRU.
Local residents attended a community meeting Thursday evening at the Gainesville Country Club to speak with Sybac Solar personnel and present their concerns.
At one point, Gary Dounson, the project’s engineer, asked for order after a discussion between a couple of residents and Sybac personnel grew heated as the residents emphasized their misgivings about the project.
Willa Drummond, who lives on a farm uphill from the site where the solar park would be built, worries about the impact this could have on the sandhill crane population that migrates to and from the area during the year.
“This is wrong for the area,” she said during the meeting.
Annie Orlando, who also lives in the surrounding community, cautioned that the solar array could set a bad precedent that would encourage commercial development of the land surrounding the prairie.
Along with other residents opposed to the project, she plans to ask the Gainesville City Commission and GRU if Sybac Solar can relocate their project to land further from the prairie.
Orlando, who said she is involved with litigation regarding GRU’s Solar Feed-in-tariff Program, argued that the eco-sensitive community is an inappropriate location for commercial projects.
But one man said not all nearby residents are opposed to the solar park, citing his own support for it as a low-impact plan.
Stephanie Pierce, who has lived on Rocky Point Road near Paynes Prairie for 35 years, said in a prior interview with The Sun that the neighborhood has worked hard to keep commercial projects like this from occurring along the prairie rim. She and other residents are worried about its impact on the prairie wildlife that often come into surrounding areas.
“We’re just all concerned because we just thought that was pretty much sacred ground, as far as never having to deal with commercial properties,” Pierce said.
But Madej, also in a prior interview with The Sun, said he expects the solar field will have little, if any, impact on the area and thinks it is a better alternative to building a home there.
“It’s not really going to be visible from the street or anything like that,” he said. There will be a buffer between the solar field and surrounding lands.
The property is zoned for residential use, so anyone could build a huge house there and cause problems with traffic, irrigation and other issues, Madej said. With the solar park, that won’t happen, he said.
“And once we build it, that’s it,” he said. “The fate of that land is sealed for pretty much a very long time.”
Construction will probably take about six weeks, but after that, people won’t need to visit much for maintenance or other purposes. Producing solar energy doesn’t cause loud noise or strange odors, and it takes nothing from and puts nothing into the environment, Madej said.
From an environmental point of view, I can’t think of anything better, to be honest,” he said.
Once the 20-year contract with GRU has expired, Madej announced to community members at Thursday’s meeting that the company hopes to donate the land to the Alachua Conservation Trust. It is discussing the proposal with the nonprofit organization.
“We’re only interested in this land for 20 years,” he said. That way, it won’t be used for further development once their project is complete, he said.
One resident at the meeting said he would prefer nothing be done to the property, but that a home wouldn’t be donated to the Alachua Conservation Trust. He said he could support the project if the land will eventually be donated for conservation.
Sybac Solar needs to get a special exception for its solar park because it is a major, stand-alone utility installation, said Alachua County Growth Management Director Steve Lachnicht. The department expects to receive the company’s application on Monday.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.