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Green Building News

North Carolina Town Scuttles New Solar Farm

Some residents worry that photovoltaic panels would lower property values and prevent nearby plants and trees from growing

Do solar panels kill nearby vegetation? That appeared to be a concern in Woodland, North Carolina, where the town council blocked a zoning change that would have permitted construction of a new solar farm. A British newspaper, The Independent, reported the story this way: “U.S. town rejects solar panels amid fears they 'suck up all the energy from the sun.'”
Image Credit: Michael Mees/Flickr Creative Commons license

The Woodland, North Carolina, town council voted to block a zoning change that would have permitted development of a new photovoltaic (PV) facility after some local residents expressed fears the solar panels would absorb too much sunlight and prevent nearby plants from growing.

According to an article published in the Roanoke-Cowan News-Herald, the 3-1 vote blocked development of a PV facility that would have been constructed by the Strata Solar Company.

Three other solar farms have already been approved. Strata had proposed using 48 acres of a 207-acre lot for PV arrays, but it needed a zoning change to move ahead with the project. Instead, the council voted against the rezoning plan, and later in the meeting voted for a complete moratorium on solar farms, the newspaper said.

Cecil Harkey, the only councilor who voted in favor of the zoning change, said that his research suggested the solar panels wouldn’t pose any threats to people or nearby vegetation, but that’s not how some Woodland residents saw it.

“There was a lot of discussion,” he said by telephone. “There was a large crowd there that night. One lady had gone around with a petition, and probably half the adults in town had signed the petition. That was taken into consideration.

“Scared — they were just scared of the pollution,” he continued, “that it was going to cut out the rays of the sun in the surrounding area to where vegetation would not grow. Some of those living close to the [solar] farm, their property would be affected and kill their trees and flowers. These were some of their concerns and expressions that were made.”

Residents also were concerned the new solar farm proposed by Strata would be an eyesore. “That would be one of the first things you’d see coming into town,” Harkey said. “They were going to buffer that with trees and shrubs and I don’t think that would have been a big problem, but that’s just my opinion.”

The Woodland town office referred questions to the mayor, Kenneth Manual, but he was not available to discuss either the Strata proposal or the solar farms that have already been approved. Strata representatives who attended the town council meeting did not return phone calls.

Lower property values also a worry

A nearby electrical substation makes Woodland attractive to solar developers because the PV panels can be hooked up to the grid easily.

But at least one resident said that her home was now surrounded by solar farms, and that the facilities had lowered the value of the property, the News-Herald reported. Jean Barnes, who had circulated the petition before the council’s vote, asked the council to put any solar farm proposals in the future out to referendum.

Objections also came from Bobby and Jane Mann. Jane Mann, identified as a retired science teacher, said she was concerned the panels would interfere with photosynthesis and keep nearby plants from growing. She also was concerned by the high number of cancer deaths in the area, and said no one could assure her solar panels were not the cause.

“I want to know what’s going to happen,” she said. “I want information. Enough is enough. I don’t see the profit for the town.”

The solar panels will “suck up all the energy from the sun”

Bobby Mann said that the solar farms were “killing” the town. “All the young people are going to move out,” he told the council. Solar farms, he said, would “suck up all the energy from the sun” and convince business not to move into town, the newspaper said.

Strata did its best to convince the council otherwise. “There are no negative impacts,” said Strata’s Beth Trahos. “A solar farm is a wonderful use for a property like this.” Brent Niemann told town residents that solar panels would not “draw additional sunlight” and were not toxic.

Their arguments weren’t enough.

23 Comments

  1. Hobbit _ | | #1

    they've got to be kidding
    Last I checked April 1 was a ways off...

    _H*

  2. D Dorsett | | #2

    Aren't you glad she's a RETIRED science teacher?
    There's a wealth of ignorance out there, but I can't imagine the disinformation campaign behind this one. She seems completely happy and un-embarrassed to share the wealth!

  3. Greg Smith | | #3

    no words
    I read that blog twice and I am at a loss for words.

    Yes to your question Dana, but I am afraid it's far too little and far too late.

  4. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    Math and science ignorance
    Yesterday my wife and I spent some time listening to a salesperson at a car dealership explain the extended warranties that they offered. To show the value of the warranty, the salesperson displayed a line graph labeled, "Frequency of repairs." The X axis showed years -- from 0 to 8 or 10. The Y axis showed miles driven.

    Needless to say, the title of the graph was irrelevant -- it did not describe the data depicted in the graph. All I learned from the graph is that the total number of miles that a car owner has driven increases with the passage of time.

    Neither the car company that created the graph nor anyone on the sales team saw anything wrong with the graph. Presumably, U.S. schoolchildren learn how to read line graphs some time between the 6th grade and the 8th grade... but in fact, it's sometimes hard to find a U.S. adult who can read a line graph or understand the question, "Do solar panels suck up all the energy from the sun in a way that is dangerous to plants?"

  5. John Clark | | #5

    Being from NC this article reads like something from The Onion
    I can see the property value issue but really. IMO there's something else going on. Perhaps there were some sketchy land deals involved and residents just made up reasons to vote no.

    Update: SNOPES http://www.snopes.com/north-carolina-town-rejects-solar-panels/

  6. Dan Kolbert | | #6

    Human stupidity
    The ultimate renewable resource

  7. Nate G | | #7

    The tragedy of politics
    People have always been ignorant about things they have no knowledge of and probably always will be. There is no changing that. What this offers us is an excellent real-world example of the folly of giving people who don't own property direct input over what the owners can do with it. Such a mechanism becomes a perfect conduit for ordinarily-harmless ignorance to become a huge problem.

  8. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #8

    Photosynthesis check
    Just out of curiosity, I decided to look closely at the photo I took last summer of a solar facility near my house. I wanted to see how the vegetation was doing -- to see whether the PV arrays at this facility in Barton, Vermont, were hurting the grass.

    The grass looks OK to me.

    .

  9. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #9

    Happy sheep in Wisconsin
    Evidently, these grazing sheep in Wisconsin didn't get the message that PV arrays are bad for vegetation.

    .

  10. Donald Endsley | | #10

    Response to Martin,
    Well that's just great just what we want our towns to smell like sheep farts and pissoff New Zealand. We just need to go back to burning coal that way we'll all die of emphysema at 50 and save Social Security.

  11. Greg Philliips | | #11

    Warning dangerous PV's!!!
    Dont know about lowering property values, but just mention PV and evidently it can lower IQ levels!!! LMAO!

  12. Stuart Miller | | #12

    Pity
    I feel sorry for those de-educated by the former "teacher." I have to hope that this really isn't a thing, that it's really just two people who are tanking the average IQ of their town, and that other factors ("eyesores" being perhaps the only possibly-legitimate one mentioned) lead to the decision.

    But then I recall that that there is a member of Congress who thinks that adding more people and structures to Guam could cause the island to tip over... Guam Tipping Point ...and he has been re-elected. Multiple times.

  13. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #13

    Response to Stuart Miller
    Stuart,
    Don't forget Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who has repeatedly said that scientific warnings of climate change represent "a global warming hoax."

  14. User avater
    Dana Dorsett | | #14

    Didn't candidate Cruz just convene a senate hearing to prove it?
    He opened up the hearing with:

    “Facts matter, science matters, data matters. That’s what this hearing is about."

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/12/10/3729732/ted-cruz-and-science-have-a-rocky-relationship/

    Yup, it's a hoax, proven to a political certainty by the carefully cherry picked, narrowest set of facts and time frames imaginable. Clearly a scientist.

  15. W D | | #15

    PV Sucking up the Sun's Energy? Creating Pollution?
    Just when I was fairly comfortable in my advocacy of PV ..... Maybe we've got to rethink this thing? ..... Nah, we're OK.

    I'm fairly confident there will be little impact from the recent events in Woodland. It looks like a nice place. I guess the key learning there is the automatic re-election of Mr. Cecil Harkey is no longer a given.

  16. User avater
    Dana Dorsett | | #16

    Naw, it's not the PV creating the pollution- it's the trees.
    From another famous politician-scientist of a prior generation:

    http://thesciencewritingblog.com/2014/09/07/ronald-reagan-said-trees-cause-more-pollution-than-automobiles-do-ignoring-trees-conversion-of-co2/comment-page-1/

  17. Alan B | | #17

    This is why we can't have nice things
    If solar panels were used 60 years ago during the "smart" age instead of nuclear, oil and coal then we would not have this problem.
    On the plus side the solar panels can't lower their IQ any further, like interest rates you can't go much below zero.

  18. DAN VANDERMOLEN | | #18

    It is all about selling news
    So in reality it sounds like the overall opposition was about the impact the facility would have on property values. Some one made some goofy comments and then that is what gets spread around the internet when in reality that isn't what the overall opposition was about. Who knows maybe the person that made the comment was elderly and suffering from alzheimers or another disability. I did some work for some like that today that use to be sharp as can be. What ever happen to real reporting? Now its just about creating stories out of nothing. Thanks GBA for joining in on the fun.

  19. Malcolm Taylor | | #19

    Not so fast
    Oh you can all laugh, but I noticed that this summer my arms didn't seem to get as tanned as usual. Surely that's got to count for something!

  20. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #20

    Response to Dan Vandermolen
    Dan,
    GBA's news reporter, Scott Gibson, interviewed one of the councilors, Cecil Harkey.

    Harkey said, "Scared — they were just scared of the pollution, that it was going to cut out the rays of the sun in the surrounding area to where vegetation would not grow. Some of those living close to the [solar] farm, their property would be affected and kill their trees and flowers. These were some of their concerns and expressions that were made."

    So the solar facility did not get its permit. I don't see any reason why you have concluded that "it is all about selling news." It's a news story, accurately reported.

  21. DAN VANDERMOLEN | | #21

    Response to Martin Holladay
    I looked at the link supplied by Chris M and read the fact checker article that claims it didn't have much to do with fear but more to do with property concerns. My experience in attending public meetings is that what is often reported doesn't represent what actually takes place in the meetings. Like Chris M I think that there is more to this story then the headline that people are scared.

  22. DAN VANDERMOLEN | | #22

    By chance is there a video of
    By chance is there a video of the council meeting where the public spoke and the vote was taken on this issue? It would be interesting to see if what is being reported reflects the public's concerns and the councils decision or if the news sources are just picking out a few comments made by citizens.

  23. User avater
    Nathan Kipnis, FAIA | | #23

    Offshore Wind Farm issues
    An environmental group that I am associated with in my town (an University town, no less) presented the concept of an offshore wind to the City Council, and one of the citizens comments was that the wind turbine foundations might poke a hole in Lake Michigan and drain the Lake out...

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