Solar farm will be a good neighbor

Solar field Mosaic In: Solar farm will be a good neighbor | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida
Solar farm in Florida. Photo by Jim Tatum.

The proposed solar farm at a local site has drawn criticism from some environmentalists who view it as falling short of environmental justice.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
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Solar farm will be a good neighbor

Debra Trione Special to Gainesville Sun USA TODAY NETWORK
Sunday, April 18, 2021

We urgently need to embrace solar energy anywhere and everywhere we can.

At a neighborhood meeting last November, representatives from Origis Energy and Gainesville Regional Utilities sought to allay concerns about a proposed solar farm in the Sand Bluff neighborhood near Archer.

At that November meeting, a few local residents charged that the site selection had been racist: The county was once again conspiring to dump a dirty industry onto a Black and brown neighborhood (in this case a proud, multi-generational farming community).

Origis Energy, the solar contracting company that selected the Sand Bluff site, vigorously pushed back against that view. They noted that the site had been chosen for practical reasons.

There was a willing seller. It was near current transmission lines and a substation so that no additional infrastructure would have to be built. And the site was also perfect for underground wire transmission lines, saving money and the tangled eyesore of overhead wires and poles.

What’s more, said the Origis spokesman, the Sand Bluff site itself was not home to any historic buildings, activities or venues. The nearby historic Black church that had burned down and the adjacent cemetery would not be disturbed.

A neighborhood herbicide treatment plan and a promise to repair roads were both explicitly stated in the proposal. And leaders from the popular local St. Joseph’s Church had already given their nod of approval to the project.

More to the point, Origis argued that solar farms like this are not intrinsically ‘dirty industry,’ and are not bad neighbors at all. Solar arrays do not pollute air or water. They are not noisy, do not chase away wildlife and do not require ongoing heavy maintenance.

Origis pointed out that the solar arrays intended for the Sand Bluff site would fill only 400 acres of the 630-acre plot. The planned layout for the installation called for a 75-foot buffer that would prevent glare, and hide any view of the solar panels from nearby homes.

What’s more, because the parcel in question was not virgin forest but rather a tree farm growing pine and hardwood timber, a solar farm in that same location would likely increase property values for the entire region. What’s not to love?

In my view, the Origis engineers made a strong case in favor of the county granting the special exception that will be needed to move forward on the Sand Bluff Solar project. The solar farm will be a good neighbor, with few detrimental effects, and will likely increase the value of nearby property.

Still, there is one not-so-small point that could have been made, but was not. Origis Energy and GRU never responded in any way to the most pernicious objection voiced by critics: We don’t need this solar farm near Archer. It’s unnecessary, objectors say.

But they are wrong. We urgently need to embrace solar energy anywhere and everywhere we can — on rooftops, parking garages, streets and on any other possible surface or space. If we can’t summon the will to do it here in Florida, where sunshine is our middle name, and where the climate crisis threatens us directly, then where?

The Alachua County Commission is scheduled to discuss the Sand Bluff solar project on April 21. If they approve the special exception needed to move forward this month, it will still have taken five long years from conception to completion of this project, a project that at best will provide less than 2% of GRU’s electricity needs.

Those who call the Sand Bluff solar project unnecessary are blinding themselves to the seriousness of a climate crisis that is very real, and barreling down on us at break-neck speed. Keeping things the way they are is just not an option any of us can afford anymore.

We must seize on every chance we get to make clean renewable energy the norm. The Sand Bluff site will be a good early start, but we can’t stop there. We are all in a fight for our lives. The vote to approve a special exception for the Sand Bluff solar project should be an easy yes.

Debra Trione is a resident of Gainesville and a Climate Reality Leader.

2 Comments

  1. Perhaps those who are against this project would rather have a Phosphate mine which would push radioactive Radon Gas throughout the neighborhood?? Or a chicken farm??

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