By Mike Lednovich
The City Commission has told Florida Public Utilities it is in favor of pursuing solar energy options, but took no position on the 36 acres of maritime forest at the airport currently being proposed as the site for a solar farm.
“All five people (commissioners) have said they would be in favor of solar in some capacity,” said Mayor Bradley Bean. “For the record, we note that Commissioner Ross is in favor of solar but not in favor of that 36-acre location and from the other four we have a consensus in favor of solar in general.”
FPU in partnership with the property leaseholder Amelia River Golf Club originally sought an amendment to the property lease in order to be able to use 36 of 130 untouched acres for a solar farm and airport hangars. The project would necessitate clear-cutting the site.
Public opposition to the lease amendment was so negative that the amendment vote was removed last week from the city commission agenda and replaced with a discussion of the project.
“When FPU approached me about the idea a couple of years ago I thought it might be worth considering. That’s the reason we’re here,” said Tom Miller, a partner in the golf course company that holds the property lease. “I love this island. I have several businesses here. I plan on growing old and retiring here and having my kids visit here.”
Mike Castle of FPU said the plan is to install a five-megawatt solar array on the property.
“The use of this space … we’ve seen this at airports around the state. The transmission lines would not be overhead, they would be underground,” he said. “There are some benefits to a solar field on a barrier island.”
He spoke of the importance of renewable energy in that (electrical) grid.
“We want resilience, reliability, we want better power quality for our customers and this accomplishes all of those,” Castle said. “The renewable energy goes right back here on the grid for the island. It provides energy security. It helps us mitigate that problem.”
FPU said they had looked at other island locations but got pushback of solar panels “not in my backyard.”
Cameron Moss was among about a dozen speakers who voiced opposition to the solar farm location. Moss, who was representing the new non-profit Citizens Against Runaway Development Amelia, labeled the proposal as a project in search of justification.
“What’s the objective here … to raise revenue to fill revenue gaps? For resiliency and fill emergency power gaps?” he said. “This is a pretty draconian measure to cut down thousands of old-growth trees untouched by man, it seems out of character with the island … I would ask the city commission to hit pause on this proposal.”
When commission discussion began, Chip Ross read a list of objections to solar on the heavily wooded parcel.
“A solar farm is not an allowable use on land zoned industrial airport land. It would decrease the tree canopy by 1% and take it to negative in violation of the (city) comprehensive plan,” Ross said. “I’m not for the clear-cutting of 36 acres of maritime forest to allow for a solar farm.”
Commissioners Darron Ayscue and James Antun took a more let’s leave the door open approach.
“I would like to see the exploration of how this would work out,” Ayscue said. “If Commissioner Ross is correct in all his assumptions, well then this is dead before it even gets off the ground. I’d be interested to see if that’s the case and it won’t get far. If it isn’t the case, then at least we’ll have some answers and the ability to be able to provide some feedback to our constituents on how to move forward.”
Antun said, “I’m in support of generally looking for opportunities for solar renewable energy. I think tonight we’ve heard we’ve got our work cut out for us on public approval. If we can get creative and continue to draw community input to refine the idea I would support it if it makes sense.”
The commission set no deadlines for updates on the Amelia River/FPU proposal.