LAKE PLACID — True to their word, Duke Energy Florida has started a solar farm in Highlands County. Motorists on U.S. 27 can see the progress off the east shoulder, just north of the new Town Hall. The location is on St. Johns Street.

Hundreds of acres of orange groves are being cleared to accommodate the plant that will produce 45 megawatt (MW) of energy. The solar plant, at peak capacity, could power about 12,000 homes at any time, Duke Energy’s spokeswoman Ana Gibbs said.

The land being cleared is from Cow Slough and Price Groves, which are owned by members of the Smoak family. Duke Energy Florida entered into a long-term lease with the family.

“We have been clearing the land at the the Lake Placid Solar Power Plant, which will be built on 380 acres in Highlands County,” Gibbs said. “The plant will consist of approximately 180,000 tracking solar panels. The solar power plant is expected to be in service in December 2019 and will be owned, operated and maintained by Duke Energy Florida.”

The fiscal impact of the construction of the plant is unknown as of yet. However, it is safe to say crew members will have to stay somewhere locally and would be eating in local restaurants and shopping in the town or at least the county.

The Highlands News-Sun asked Gibbs if Duke Energy Florida would be doing any local hiring.

“DEF is responsible for the development activities, including construction, but hires contractors to execute the work,” she said. “We work with those contractors to try to hire local qualified resources for our solar projects.”

Gibbs said each solar plant site will have a fluctuating number of people working during different phases in the construction process. She did give an example of some of the north Florida sites that are significantly larger.

“In our north Florida sites (which are approximately 100,000 more solar panels), we generally expect approximately more than 200 workers at peak construction,” Gibbs said. “Our selected construction contractor offered positions to over 150 local workers at one of our projects. As mentioned, those projects were larger than the Lake Placid site.”

Duke Energy says they will hire locally if there are candidates with the qualifications they are looking for.

“We work with our Duke Energy contractors to try to hire qualified resources for our solar projects and support local hires when possible,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs did not immediately have the fiscal impact numbers at hand but promised to find out.

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