The people's voice of reason

Opponents speak out on Montgomery County solar farms project

Over one hundred members of the community crowded into the Montgomery County Commission seeking information about a proposed massive 1,600 acre solar panel farm near the Snowden Community.

County Commissioner Singleton said that he had arranged for another public meeting be held on the topic next Tuesday night.

"The owners of the property and representatives of the Solar Farm will be here and they will answer every question you have," Commissioner Singleton said.

Montgomery County already has a massive solar farm, the Black Bear facility, operated by Light Source BP and a municipal energy cooperative – a different developer.

Singleton said that he had spoken with ADEM Director Lance Leflour about the proposed solar farm.

"There is not a lot ADEM can do until the facility is built," Singleton informed the residents. "The county can't tell people in an unincorporated area what they can or cannot do on their property."

Many of the residents wanted the commission to simply pass a ban on new solar farms.

"That would be breaking the law," Singleton said.

Singleton said that he had discussed this with the developers, and they have agreed to give adjoining landowners a buffer area.

"They have done that on their own," said Singleton.

Singleton said that the county has given tax abatements to other companies that brought good paying jobs to the communities.

"We have done that for Hyundai and other companies," said Singleton.

"Infinity (the energy company) has not met with anybody," Singleton said. "They have not asked for a tax abatement."

"They will come and answer every question that they possibly can Tuesday night," Singleton said.

Even though dozens of speakers were asking to address the commission on this topic, the Commission let only two citizens opposed to the project speak, Those two speakers were limited to just three minutes and then they were interrupted repeatedly by commissioner with questions and their own statements.

"We are going to limit it to two speakers," said Singleton. "That is our rules."

Karin Bolinger is a rancher from Hope Hull.

"I fell in love with the area and was excited about the ability to get back into cattle ranching," Bolinger said of her decision to move to Montgomery County. "There has been no consideration about the environmental impact."

"The is significant soil erosion when they are setting up the system, but it often continues through the life of the facility," Bolinger said.

Bolinger warned that the substances used in the production of the solar panels is so toxic that the two workers at the existing Black Bear Site have to wear complete chemical protection suits including masks.

Solar panels contain small amounts of toxic materials such as cadmium telluride, copper indium selenide, and cadmium gallium.

Bolinger said that other states that have done this have found that the facilities contaminated the river and that there has been a lack of oversight from the state and the county involved.

"We cannot just assume that these solar companies are going to come in and do the right thing," Bolinger said.

Singleton said that "5600 acres are under consideration in Montgomery County."

"Personally, I would not like to see that area tied up," Singleton said.

Commissioner Carmen Moore-Zeigler said, "I am totally opposed to solar farms and am opposed to give them any incentives."

Moore-Zeigler said that this situation is due to county voters voting down zoning in 2016.

"It doesn't matter what it is, this is on you," said Moore-Zeigler. "I am as much against these solar farms, but the truth is that a solar farm is not the only thing that can ruin your property value."

"You voted it down in 2016," said Moore-Zeigler. "We cannot outlaw solar farms."

"We can put it back on the ballot," said Moore-Zeigler.

"If it weren't for the solar farms, you would be crucifying me for bringing it up," said Singleton of county wide zoning.

Neal Macentire said, "I am a fourth-generation landowner."

"This is unincorporated land," said Macentire. "Black Bear suffered from a serious fire that the local volunteer fire department could not control because it was a chemical fire."

"This has encumbered on my ability to utilize my property," said Macentire.

"There is no law that we can enforce on this," said Commissioner Daniel Harris, Jr.

Commissioner Rhonda Walker assured the crowd, "We will not support a tax abatement."

Cherry Martin is the Deputy Director of Energy Alabama a statewide non-profit promoting clean energy.

"I want to speak on behalf of solar farms," Martin said. "This solar farm will generate a large amount of tax revenue for Montgomery County. Solar farms are actually wildlife habitat friendly and can be used for sheep ranching. They also use less herbicide than frequently used in row crop farming."

"Solar panels are increasingly manufactured in the United States employing Americans," Martin said. "People are making good wages in this. 00% of that electricity will go to the grid in Alabama. If we want to attract good jobs to Alabama and Montgomery County, then we need to have clean energy here. Solar panels are recyclable They are being recycled in this country right now."

"If there are contaminants being produced by solar companies that is a concern," said Commissioner Harris.

Martin said that the workers have to wear the toxic material suits due to OSHA regulation

Following the short discussion the Commission moved on to other matters.

The Biden Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is rewriting administrative rules to force utilities to close coal, oil, and natural gas power generating plants. Similarly, the EPA is putting pressure on automakers and trucking companies to switch to electric vehicles. Charging growing fleets of electric vehicles will increase power consumption by individual families, business, industry, and governments; but also putting greater pressure on the grid as a whole by increasing the demand for electricity. This is forcing power companies to add additional power generating capacity and since getting a new coal, oil, or gas power plant approved is a longshot at best and since the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has virtually shut down approval of new nuclear power plants, utilities have been left with few options other than to build new solar and wind generating plants even though with both it takes many thousands of acres of infrastructure to produce the same power as even one modern coal or nuclear plant.

Proponents argue that structural changes in the economy are needed to combat the threat of climate change.

Details on the upcoming public meeting on Tuesday, June 25 will be shared when the Commission makes that public.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email brandonmreporter@gmail.com

 

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