The controversial expansion of a Mulberry solar farm, the Alafia solar project, which was declined in 2018 has been reversed and approved by the Polk County Board of County Commissioners in Florida. The board greenlit the project on a 3-2 vote, despite opposition from local residents who claimed the solar farm would disrupt the peaceful and historic nature of the Chicora community. The Alafia solar project will be placed “south of Bethlehem Road, east and west of Chicora Road, and north and south of Albritton Road,” according to the meeting agenda packet. The land is owned by Tampa Electric Company (TECO).
The proposal to mount solar panels and deliver clean energy has been in the works for more than two years. In May 2018, TECO proposed a “solar electric power generation facility” that would span four plots, taking up almost 416 acres, on land purchased from a local farmer in the same year. The Planning Commission approved the request, but two of the properties were axed when the project came before the Board of County Commissioners. In a 3-1 vote, the board chose to approve only about 268 acres of the project, denying the other 147, according to the county agenda.
The Planning Commission denied the expansion of the solar project with the two additional properties. The Board of County Commissioners chose to override that decision after hearing presentations from representatives for TECO and opposed residents. County staff recommended approval of the project in its review. Cherie Jacobs, a media spokesperson for TECO, said that all they’ve done on the property since the 2018 purchase is clear the land and install a fence. The fence came up as a point of controversy during the Tuesday meeting, as some residents said they were offended by the fence being placed in a community that feels safe with one another.