Community should have input in solar development

Solar field Mosaic In: Community should have input in solar development | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida
Solar field in Central Florida. Photo by Jim Tatum

The following op-ed is published online in the Gainesville Sun and will likely appear in the Sunday hard edition.

In an effort to support communities that have been marginalized, sometimes big NGO’s must take a stand in their support. Not all projects are for all places and this is a case of one of these occurrences.  This op-ed gives a side to the story in which Suwannee St. John’s Sierra Club is still in ongoing restructuring in the aftermath. 

Read the original article here in the Gainesville Sun.

Community should have input in solar development
Emily Gorman, Sarah Younger and Tim Martin
Guest columnists

Sierra Club Florida has long been a leading advocate for the state’s transition to clean, renewable energy, including solar.

Advancing solar energy across the Sunshine State has taught us that the potential impacts of solar go far beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions. When thoughtfully developed, solar can bring communities a host of benefits, like career jobs that pay family-sustaining wages, wealth-building investments for residents and a source of backup power in the event of disasters.

These benefits are particularly important within communities of color, who experience a historic and ongoing marginalization. As with any community investment or development project, those benefits cannot be designed or realized without meaningful and substantive opportunities for residents to have their voices heard.

The recent proposal to build a 620-acre solar farm in Archer presented an instance where these two priorities intersected, and an opportunity to invest in the health and wealth of a community was missed. In this case, solar farm developers failed to adequately reach out to the local community, to hear from them or to address their potential concerns.

It became clear that the county lacked the required information regarding social equity and environmental justice it needed to determine whether the project met the provisions of the Alachua County Comprehensive Plan, as we concluded in our letter to the County Commission. Specifically:

• “Institutional facilities shall be designed and located for integration into the surrounding community. Land use decisions concerning location of institutional environmental uses shall take into consideration justice.”

These concerns may have contributed to the special use permit being denied at both the Planning Commission and the County Commission meetings. It is our hope that all potential developers of clean and renewable energy will learn from these missteps, and take the steps necessary to realize the full benefits and potential of solar energy. …

Sierra Club Florida invites all interested parties to join the movement for 100% clean and renewable energy for all. A just transition to sustainable power is one that serves our entire community’s needs and leaves no one behind.

— Emily Gorman is an organizing representative with the Sierra Club, Sarah Younger is former chair of the Suwannee St Johns Group of the Sierra Club and Tim Martin is outgoing conservation chair of the Sierra Club’s Florida chapter.

 

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