The new Mountain View solar farm continues to proceed at a brisk pace at the site in northeast Pasco County. As the solar panels go up, along with the upgraded power lines and bulky transformers to support them, I asked local residents how they felt about the project. I got a nearly unanimous response from people who live around the solar farm: the land being developed is not ideal but solar panels are a hell of a lot better than new homes.
The Mountain View solar farm is located just a couple of miles north of Dade City, a town of just 7,000 people. The acreage that it occupies could have supported hundreds of new homes. Instead, it will be home to thousands of new solar panels. It is nestled in an area of Pasco County that is still largely rural and sparsely populated, though, that is beginning to change.
Concerns about new homes in this part of the Tampa area stems from a lack of trust in the local infrastructure. There is still no widespread internet coverage. Power outages happen more frequently than in the city. Many of the main roads are still just two lanes. These are the same kinds of concerns that were pointed out during the contentious Happy Hill development meetings earlier this year.
The main roads surrounding the Mountain View solar farm site are all two lane. These roads include Blanton Road, Frazee Hill Road, St. Joe Road, and Powerline Road. People concerned about new housing starts frequently cite these roads as a problem. How can they add hundreds of houses and, potentially, thousands of people, to these winding rural streets?
The good news is, for now, that concern has been delayed. The 350 acre site of the new solar farm cannot be redeveloped into residential space. The nearby campus of Pasco Hernando State College also had a bid for new nearby apartments blocked due to similar concerns.
I spoke to residents who live on a ridge overlooking the new solar farm off of rural Ramsey Road and they lamented the loss of their picturesque view. What used to be rolling pastures and old citrus groves will now sport black panels and grey infrastructure.
A commuter who travels through the Dade City area on her way south was glad to hear that the land would not add any traffic to her route. Many of the connecting roads are two lanes and are prone to backups if overloaded. Even US 301 is not four lanes in many spots between Hernando and Hillsborough counties.
The fight against further residential development in northeast Pasco shows no sign of slowing down. As the rest of the county continues to develop at an astonishing pace, the residents of these rural parts are doing what they can to slow the spread of the sprawl in their neck of the woods. While the development of the previously rural farm land is a blow to the proponents of green space, it is a far cry from new subdivisions.
Very few people are excited about hundreds of acres of solar panels popping up nearby but they all can agree that inert solar panels are far better than the alternative. Solar panels do not drive cars, they do not add to the congestion on nearby roads and they do not continue to damage the nearby environment like new homes potentially will. They might even help shore up some of the spotty power performance in the nearby communities.
Every time I ask someone about the new solar farm I get the same response, a shrug, a sigh, and an admission. Seeing the land torn up is sad but almost anything at this point is better than new homes.