LABELLE — Hendry County’s Board of Commissioners voted Oct. 23 to send on to state regulators Florida Power & Light Co.’s request for permission to build a solar energy facility on 623 agricultural acres along County Road 833, about 3 miles south of State Road 80.
FPL is requesting to amend the Hendry County Comprehensive Plan to allow the FPL Blue Heron Energy Center — a solar-only facility on the property that will be limited to total generation of 74.5 megawatts of electricity. Its application asks for a text amendment to add a subarea policy in accordance with the requirements outlined for the future land use map designation of Electrical Generating Facility. The action transmits FPL’s petition to the state agencies for their review and comment through the expedited review process.
Any comments they provide will be considered and incorporated into the proposed comprehensive plan language, if appropriate, and presented to the county board later for adoption.
According to the economic impact statement provided by FPL: “The facility will provide direct and indirect economic benefits to the county, including benefits from increased local expenditures for goods and services during its construction and operation. Approximately 200 jobs will be generated during its six- to 10-month construction period. Use of local labor will be encouraged, where possible. Once the solar project is in service, it will pay taxes for the remainder of its economic life, which is expected to be more than the taxes currently paid on the land in its current use of citrus farming.”
No more than 70 percent of the site will be taken up by power generating facilities, and a minimum of 30 percent will be open space, either left in native vegetation or landscaped. Solar panels will be allowed to rise no more than 20 feet off the ground. Once the plant is built, it will be unmanned except for occasional maintenance and monitoring visits. Agricultural uses (although not citrus production) still will be allowed on parts of the property not in use for power generation, and an educational/visitor center facility also may be built.
For this development, FPL will reap the benefit of a property tax exemption the Florida Legislature enacted in 2017 for renewable energy source devices that are installed after Jan. 1, 2018; the company will not pay taxes on 80 percent of the assessed value of the power generating improvements made to the property.
The staff report pointed out, however, that there is no comparable tax break for three previously approved FPL power generating facilities in Hendry County: the Hendry Solary Energy Center and Hendry County Clean Energy Facility, both located on CR 833 south of CR 846; and the FPL Hammock Solar Energy Center, located off Sears Road.
Planning and Community Development Director Margaret Emblidge said, “We won’t know how much the value will be until they’ve actually completed their construction.”
Commissioner Michael Swindle said he wanted to make a statement “and get our board to chime in here, if they feel it necessary.”
Mr. Swindle said: “I still have a bruised kidney over the beating we took from FPL on a large tract of land in the southern part of the county. I am super-excited that FPL is in this county. ... I want to see this project happen (and) more projects happen; but I want to see some tangible returns on investments that I still have a bruised kidney from the beating that we on this dais took for months to make this possible, rather than taking property that we are not going to see full benefit from and developing it and transforming it before the other property is developed.”
Commissioner Karson Turner replied: “I can’t speak for other commissioners, but I think you probably have a 5-0 vote of support on that, Commissioner Swindle. And I think it’s a great time to ask for an update as it relates to the south county project on that piece down there because we were raked over the coals. And I think you’ve seen nothing but a unanimous vote of support when we conduct business with FPL and welcome (the company) with open arms.”
While it was noted that construction is expected to begin within one to two years, an update on that progress was promised.