BARTOW — The vast expanse on the east side of Bartow once represented an extractive industry of the early 20th century: phosphate mining.
The tract just north of State Road 60 served as a clay settling area, an impoundment holding water that allows dirt and clay to settle.
The 422-acre property — covering roughly the area of 30 professional football stadiums — has been transformed into a symbol of clean, 21st century energy. Countless rows of gleaming, black solar panels stand like sentries ready to track the sun each day, absorbing light and converting it into enough energy to power 8,500 homes.
The Peace Creek solar facility, part of Tampa Electric’s plans for a 10-site project, is complete and ready to begin operating soon.
Mark Ward, director of renewables for TECO, strode between the rows of solar panels on a recent morning, explaining the technology that is allowing the company to rely less on coal and natural gas in energy production.
“Once we get this up and going in another month, month and a half, you come out here and you’ll only hear the birds singing,” Ward said.
Five of TECO’s current or planned solar sites are in Polk County. The Bonnie Mine plant, southeast of Mulberry, and the Payne Creek plant, near the county’s southern boundary, are both operating.
Less than 10 miles west of the Peace Creek site, construction continues on the Lake Hancock facility, a 356-acre project on the west side of U.S. 98 a few miles north of Bartow. Four more solar farms are either complete or planned in Hillsborough County, and another is scheduled for construction in Pasco County. [full article]