The people's voice of reason

Solar farms won't produce jobs Enfinity Global spokesman tells Montgomery crowd

On Tuesday an estimated crowd of nearly 200 persons attended an informational meeting about a proposed 1,600-acre solar farm on Mount Zion Road near Snowdoun in a rural area of Montgomery County.

Enfinity Global spokesperson Tom Anderson fielded residents many concerns in a meeting that went for two hours and twenty minutes.

A packed crowd of farmers, ranchers, and homeowners said that they did not want the project in their community

"I am here to answer questions about solar," Anderson said. "This is really designed to help us begin a conversation."

"Enfinity Global is a US based solar and battery development company. Our company is headquartered in Miami," said Anderson. "We are a privately held company," that has been in business for five years. "We have operations and developments going on in about a dozen states."

"We are a U.S. based company," Anderson explained. "We are owned by a mixed group of investors," with some of them being Americans and some being foreigners.

Anderson explained that the company will utilize "existing buffers and features to keep this away from property boundaries." "We are going to leave a minimum of 25 feet of buffer." There would be a 500-foot setback on Mount Zion Road.

"We are passionate about the land," Anderson said. "On this site fortunately, there are no endangered or threatened species." "Existing streams and impoundments will remain in place."

"We don't use industrial style chain link fence," Anderson added. "We have got a lot of grass. The deer can jump the fence," to graze. The company will design the project "to allow them to migrate from one part of the project to another."

Anderson explained that the panels move during the day to catch sunlight, but at their highest point they would be about nine foot up in the air.

Anderson did acknowledge that solar farms do not bring jobs to an area outside of the initial construction of the project.

"We will likely have a contract with a local landscaper," (to keep the property mowed) Anderson explained. "One or two people on site for the first couple of years. We don't pretend that a solar project is going to bring 150 to 200 jobs."

Anderson said that they were invited to the state by the Alabama Power Company in 2022 when APC asked for companies to present them with proposals.

"Alabama Power did not specifically invite us, they invited the industry to submit proposals," Anderson told the crowd. "We chose this land because there was an existing landowner who was interested in doing this project."

The Arrington family owns several thousand acres in Montgomery County in addition to this 1,800-acre tract.

"There is no phase two," Anderson assured residents. "There was never a plan for a phase two."

"A lot of people are concerned that we are going to seed this with a turf seed, so it is like a golf course or yard," explained Anderson. "We are trying to simulate a natural prairie system for this area. We will probably have more flowering species than what is out there now. It is really good for ground nesting birds."

Most of the land in the area is used by cattle ranchers for grazing.

"We are looking at a sheep maintenance strategy," said Anderson. "There is a sheep herding industry in the state." "Sheep really like the inside of solar farms."

Cattle and solar panels do not mix well.

"Cattle unfortunately are heavy and like to scratch on things," said Anderson. "Sheep ignore the solar panels."

Anderson did say that none of their current projects are utilizing sheep.

"We have done a good amount of geotechnical work to understand the soils out there," said Anderson. "For basic solar design we are using a firm out of Dallas. Our engineering firm is Alpha which is based in North Carolina. We do partner with local engineering firms because they understand local licensing practices we also use local seed."

"We take a long-term view on our projects," said Anderson. "Solar panels have a useful life of 40 years."

Anderson explained that new solar panels convert solar energy from the sun into electricity with about a 25% efficiency; but they lose about 3 percent of their effectiveness annually so after about 40 years they are only working at 17% efficiency.

"We are all landowners in this room, and we are not really happy with the person that sold us out," one rancher said.

"You are putting a lightning rod over my house," said one elderly homeowner near the site.

Another elderly resident with a pacemaker expressed concerns about the solar panels generating a magnetic field that will interfere with the operation of his pacemaker.

"Solar farms do not produce a magnetic field," Anderson assured the resident.

One resident expressed concerns that the noise from the power inverters would be a nuisance.

"There will no nuisance noise at the property line," Anderson said. "OSHA standards are a limit of 85 decibels at three feet and no noise at 150 to 200 feet. The buffer and the vegetative cover work to eliminate the noise."

The Alabama Legislature has passed incentives for building green energy projects.

"We have a regulatory environment that provides tax credits for these projects," explained Anderson.

Anderson was asked if these projects would be profitable without federal and state tax credits and subsidies.

"Honestly no sir. I am just being honest with you," Anderson said. "This is a free market project we are answering the demands of private industry."

One resident expressed concern about toxic materials, specifically cadmium telluride leaching from the solar panels.

Cadmium telluride is used by one manufacturer," Anderson explained. "We do not plan to ever buy panels from that manufacturer."

Anderson promised to allow residents to have deeded access to a small legacy cemetery that is on the property.

One resident asked about the dangers of lithium batteries.

"Our system will not have batteries," Anderson answered.

Another resident asked about runoff from the site.

"There were some projects that were poorly planned, poorly regulated that were some real disasters," Anderson acknowledged. "Our property is already in grass.

Anderson said that they will work with ADEM (the Alabama Department of Environmental Management) on runoff and stormwater management plan.

"We will work hand in hand with the state to make sure that these streams are protected," said Anderson.

"Why can't you go someplace else?" one resident asked.

"We have a landowner who is willing to work with us," Anderson answered. "We understand that we are not going to work out of here holding hands."

A solar farm has already been built in rural Montgomery County by another company.

The local volunteer fire chief said that in the year that that facility has been operational there have been two fires already, and one of them his department responded to and they were told they could not use water to fight the fire.

"They are correct, you do not put water on an electrical fire," Anderson said.

The chief said that all of the panels made it difficult to get trucks or bulldozers in to fight the fire.

Anderson promised to work with first responders on developing a plan.

"What have you seen of property values decreasing," one resident asked.

Anderson said that property values will drop during the construction phase of the project but once it is up and running he has talked to realtors who say that the neighboring property loses seven percent and other realtors say that there is no effect.

"I have been to both of these meetings, and I have yet to see any benefit for South Alabama," one local rancher said.

"We would rather you not come," one resident told Anderson.

Anderson said that they have an option to purchase the 1,800 acres, but do not own the Arrington property presently.

There is another project that is also moving through the process in Montgomery. 6,000 acres in the area are under consideration for solar projects.

Shelby Stringfellow is with the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce. He said that they do not recruit solar farms because they don't bring any jobs to the community.

Anderson said that the company will only get single digit returns from the facility once it is bult – if it is ever built.

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

 
 

Reader Comments(1)

Patricia1957 writes:

After reading your story on the Solar Projects my husband and I are in complete agreement with you. Who are these American and non-American investors that have no interest in benefiting Alabama ? The builders and designers being from out of state. Doesn't sound like a good investment for Alabama.

 
 
 
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