2015 Rewind: December

Published 9:06 am Monday, January 4, 2016

From RCNH Archives

WOODLAND – In a story from December that attracted attention all over the world, Woodland Mayor Kenneth Manuel followed up in an effort to explain that Town Council did not reject a fourth solar farm for trivial reasons.

The story about rejection of the solar farm went viral since it was first published in the Dec. 8 R-C News Herald. He said he and the town hall staff have been inundated by emails and phone calls, sometimes quite vulgar, from around the world over the Town Council’s decision on Dec. 3 to reject the rezoning of a parcel of land outside the town’s northern border. That land is within Woodland’s ETJ (Extra Territorial Jurisdiction), meaning it falls under the auspices of the Town Council for zoning/rezoning.

Had the rezoning issue passed, a new solar farm would have been built there.

Woodland already has three solar farms slated for construction on plots of land that were rezoned by the Town Council. One of those three, Community Energy Solar, is currently building a massive solar farm that is visible from Main Street (Hwy 258) within the town.

After construction is complete, Manuel said that solar farm would disappear behind foliage that will be planted on a 400-yard buffer between where the solar panels will be placed and the main roadway.

He wants to assure the public that the Dec. 3 rejection of Strata Solar Company’s proposal for a solar farm was not a spur-of-the-minute decision.

Manuel took office Dec. 3, but he attended many of the Town Council’s previous meetings where solar farms had been discussed and all votes to rezone the land had been accompanied with public hearings.

Manuel said members of the Town Council had become concerned about being overcrowded by solar farms before the Dec.3 meeting.

During the Dec. 3 meeting, Jean Barnes said she represented many citizens who rejected any more solar farms coming to the Woodland area and presented a multi-page petition to the Council signed by numerous concerned citizens.

“With that fourth proposal, if that had come to be, we literally would have had solar farms on each of the four compass points of our town,” Manuel said. “That just wasn’t doable.”

He explained that for the first three solar farms, people in town simply didn’t attend the meetings and didn’t pay attention to what the Town Council was doing in regards to rezoning issues that led to the approval of that trio of solar facilities.

Now that people can see a solar farm under construction off of Hwy. 258 in town, “concerns have grown.”

Manuel said the Town Council did not base its decision to reject the fourth solar farm solely based upon what was said by the public during the Dec. 3 meeting, including one allegation that the great number of solar panels will “suck up the energy from the sun.” It was also alleged that other local communities dried up when I-95 came along and warned that would happen to Woodland because of the solar farms. “You’re killing your town; all the young people are going to move out,” one resident said.

Another town resident expressed concern over photosynthesis, which depends upon sunlight, would not happen and would keep the vegetation from growing. That citizen said they had observed areas near other solar panels where vegetation is brown and dead because it did not receive enough sunlight. That same individual also questioned the high number of cancer deaths in the area, saying no one could tell them that solar panels didn’t cause cancer.

All of those comments were repeated, often out of context, on news sites worldwide.

In response at the Dec. 3 meeting, Strata officials addressed the council and audience. Several company representatives, to include Beth Trahos, Sam Judd and Brent Niemann, spoke about solar farms.

They changed the plan to increase setback from the road and said the solar farm would be have substantial amounts of vegetation.

Trahos said solar farms are proven to be safe and exist next to homes. She said there are no negative impacts on property values statewide.

Niemann said the only sunlight the panels use to generate power is that which hits them directly.

“The panels don’t draw additional sunlight,” Niemann noted.

The power generated would go directly into the electrical grid and would not reduce Woodland’s power bills.

“There are no toxic materials on site,” Niemann said. “This is a tried and true technology.”

Mayor Manuel stressed that Town Council members have been studying the issue of solar farms for months, listening to the solar companies, independent experts, and others. That eventually led to a 3-1 vote to support a motion not to approve a rezoning request from Strata Solar that would have led to the construction of a fourth solar farm in the Woodland area. Later in the meeting, council members voted for a moratorium on future solar farms.

Manuel said this experience is bringing the town closer together.

“We’re going to move on,” Manuel said. “We will be vindicated by the truth.”

He added that the small, 800-person Town of Woodland is doing its part to bring clean energy to North Carolina.

“I wonder what the people criticizing us are doing about global warming and clean energy,” he said. “Woodland is doing its part.”