Prairie Solar Array, ISKCON Development Discussed by County Commission


By Caitlyn Finnegan

The county is adding more solar power to its collection of green energy initiatives. The Alachua County Commission approved a request for a new 4.92-acre solar array on the edge of Paynes Prairie during its Tuesday afternoon meeting.

Sybac Solar, a solar panel design and installation firm based in Orlando, will build and maintain the array on a parcel of land in the Idylwild/Serenola Special Area Study currently used for cattle grazing. Energy generated by the array, estimated to be 1.5 megawatts, will be sold to Gainesville Regional Utilities through its feed-in tariff program.

The project is projected to power more than 160 homes and nearby businesses, eliminating 2,100 tons of CO2 per year.

“This is the most environmentally benign use of this land that we could have,” Commissioner Mike Byerly said.

The county agreed on a 20-year contract, after which the array will be turned over to Friends of Paynes Prairie, an organization that works with the preserve’s staff to promote the prairie.

An area of concern for county commissioners was the presence of a cattle dipping vat on the eastern boundary of the array. Used from the 1910s through the 1950s, dipping vats were filled with an arsenic solution to help eradicate the cattle fever tick. While it will have no effect on the array, residents pointed out that the contamination from the vat would make the property nearly impossible to sell or use for other purposes once the contract with Sybac comes to an end.

The motion to approve the construction of the array passed 4-1, with Commissioner Susan Baird in dissent.

Also on the agenda was a request from the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) of Alachua County Inc. for a new planned development just northeast of the city of Alachua.

The 86-acre development, located off of State Road 235, was presented to the Board by representatives from Brown and Cullen Inc., the engineering firm in charge of developing the new facilities for the religious community.

The ISKCON of Alachua property spreads out over 121 acres and serves almost 500 families, making it the largest community of its kind in North America.

According to application documents, the planned Spiritual Retreat Center will serve as a unifier for the sprawling, 40-year-old community and will include a teaching farm, a private school, 23 cabins, two lodges and a farmworker house.

The cabins are planned as one-bedroom units and each of the two lodges will have a maximum of 25 rooms. A new temple is also in the works, with plans to place it adjacent to the retreat center and lodges.

Commissioner Hutchinson questioned whether or not the county could include the retreat cabins in the tourist development tax since they will be used to house visiting families for extended stays, but according to the representative from Brown and Cullen, the entire property is tax exempt due to its religious-affiliation status.

The motion for approval of the development passed unanimously.

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