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EUSTIS, FL-Charlotte-based Duke Energy next month could be offering fast-developing Lake County, FL (Pop. 210,000) a deal it may find difficult to refuse.

In exchange for a development order and a water withdrawal permit to build a $200 million, 640 megawatt merchant power plant on a 788-acre tract five miles east of the city, Duke will promise to use only 30 acres of the land for the facility; leave 758 acres as protected green space or develop it as a public horse-riding/recreation park; and pay an estimated $3 million in annual property taxes.

The site is northwest of State Road 44 and Country Road 437, a scenic rural area dotted with five-acre homesteads, horse-riding trails and large nurseries 28 miles northwest of Downtown Orlando.

Duke maintains the facility will create 50 permanent local jobs in the $40,000-plus salary range; will not deplete the area’s fresh drinking water supply; and will hold its emissions of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides well below standards set by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Additionally, the 112-year-old, New York Stock Exchange-traded energy manufacturer promises to operate the plant a maximum 2,500 hours a year or a total 104 days annually. The plant would operate during peak-load periods only when it would sell electricity to other electric companies and guarantee no emergy blackouts to Central Florida customers.

If Lake County doesn’t run with Duke, it’s other option is to approve the 788 acres at some later date to a shelter developer. The land is zoned for the construction of one house per five acres or a total 158 houses.

A new community would need infrastructure such as roads, utility and water; and services such as police and fire protection and schools that could cost the county and taxpayers an estimated $5 million for preliminary construction only, local planners not associated with the project tell GlobeSt.com.

The Duke plant would require no such infrastructure and would be ready to construct in far less time than a subdivision, the company contends.

“It’s a textbook tradeoff,” Daryl M. Carter, president, Maury L. Carter & Associates Inc., a 38-year-old Orlando land brokerage, tells GlobeSt.com. “The county has to make the call on the deal that is best for the community, its future growth and its taxpayers.”

Dean Fritchen, senior associate, Arvida Realty Services Commercial Division, Winter Park, FL, feels the choice for Lake County is simple. “It’s a no-brainer,” Fritchen tells GlobeSt.com. “With a clean industry such as natural gas and $3 million a year coming in on property taxes, the county’s decision shouldn’t be difficult to make.”

It’s the sort of deal Lake County officials will be kicking themselves later for not accepting, some say. But a few hundred residents oppose the plant on grounds the facility will pollute the air; increase the noise level; and lower nearby residential property values.

The county has to consider those allegations as well, planners not associated with the project tell GlobeSt.com.

For Lake County, the deadline for going in or staying out of the deal is approaching, even though Duke hasn’t formally submitted its new request for a development order.

But Duke already is scouting other Florida sites for its merchant plant, company officials confirm to GlobeSt.com. The company feels it has improved its proposal 100% from last year when the county’s growth management staff rejected the plant because of noise pollution and oil-burning issues.

But the growth management staff hasn’t seen any new documentation from Duke yet and hasn’t changed its earlier view, county staffers tell GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, however, likes the plant concept and is ready to give Duke a permit based on the company’s air pollution controls.

That green light still won’t get the project out of the ground. Lake County commissioners have to raise the checkered flag first.

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