Whenever there is a poll question about something stupid, you can depend upon a fair number of Americans holding the ridiculous position. For example, there was a recent poll that found that 29% of Americans think Obama is a Muslim. I’m generally sympathetic to the argument that these people don’t really believe this. They are rather signalling in whatever way the questions allow that they really, really, really don’t like Obama. But I’m not certain. I don’t really know what is going on in these people’s minds. Indeed, a recent article made me question the basic brain functioning of my fellow Americans. But when I dug down into it, I found it was more complicated than is being reported.
Samuel Osborne reported in The Independent, US Town Rejects Solar Panels Amid Fears They “Suck Up All the Energy From the Sun.” The town in question is Woodland, North Carolina. Strata Solar Company wanted to build a solar farm north of the town. This required that the land be re-zoned from manufacturing to agricultural. The town council rejected the plan, despite the fact that the planning board was in favor of it. But it’s worse than that. The council had previous accepted plans for three other solar farms. But at the same meeting, the council voted for a moratorium on solar farms.
What could be the cause of this reversal? Well, the people have risen up. Some of the complaints at least seem reasonable. Mary Hobbs said that the existing solar farms have killed the local economy. I don’t really see that. Woodland isn’t exactly a tourist destination. It’s probably dying for the same economic reasons that lots of other small towns are dying. But it is true that the solar farm is not like a factory; it would create few jobs. At the same time, the Strata farm would probably have been very lucrative because its location was close to an electrical substation. This kind of local investment is not likely to revitalize the community.
Other concerns were less debatable. Jane Mann argued that the vegetation near solar panels is brown because of lack of sunlight. Her husband Bobby concurred, saying that the solar farms suck up all the energy from the sun. They are also concerned about cancer deaths, which the solar farms are supposedly responsible for. But mixed in with all the crazy, there is some sense. The Manns are still primarily concerned with what is going to happen to the town because of the solar farm. As Jane Mann said, “I don’t see the profit for the town.”
That’s a good point. The site for the Strata solar farm is outside the town limits and so the town will get no tax benefit from it, “The only funding the town would get is approximately $7,000 per year for specialized training for the Woodland Fire Department in the event of an electrical malfunction at the solar plant.” Get that: the company is only going to pay to make sure that the publicly funded fire department is properly educated on how to serve the company’s interests. So regardless of how silly the concerns may be, there really is nothing to counterbalance it.
Now, I’m in favor of solar farms. This is exactly the kind of thing we should be doing. But we come back to the same problem as ever: inequality. The rich want to place their solar farms out where they don’t have to see them. They can just siphon off the profits to wherever they decide the view is nicest. And the people of Woodland get nothing very clear in exchange. It’s not surprising that they start talking about solar farms sucking.