On 8 December 2015 the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald published an article titled “Woodland rejects solar farm.” The article was later aggregated to news outlets with a far larger reach, such as The Independent‘s 13 December 2015 piece “US town rejects solar panels amid fears they ‘suck up all the energy from the sun.'”
The original reported that three solar farms “had previously been accepted by the town council,” adding that a proposal to rezone part of the land north of town was subsequently rejected in the meeting:
The Woodland Town Council rejected a proposal to rezone a section of land north of town to M2 (manufacturing) from RA (residential/agricultural), essentially denying approval of a solar farm … Later in the meeting, the Town Council voted for a complete moratorium on solar farms.
During the public comment period preceding the rezoning vote, citizens expressed distrust and fear of the solar panels.
Mary Hobbs has been living in Woodland for 50 years and said she has watched it slowly becoming a ghost town with no job opportunities for young people.
She said her home is surrounded by solar farms and is no longer worth its value because of those facilities.
She added that the only people profiting are the landowners who sell their land, the solar companies, and the electrical companies.
Notably, among concerns registered were those like Hobbs’; some residents simply worried that the burgeoning solar industry would further depress the local economy and tank the values of their homes (asserting that such damage had already been done.) Others expressed concerns unrelated to property value:
The next speakers were Bobby and Jane Mann.
Jane Mann said she is a local native and is concerned about the plants that make the community beautiful.
She is a retired Northampton science teacher and is concerned that photosynthesis, which depends upon sunlight, would not happen and would keep the plants from growing. She said she has observed areas near solar panels where the plants are brown and dead because they did not get enough sunlight.
She also questioned the high number of cancer deaths in the area, saying no one could tell her that solar panels didn’t cause cancer.
“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.
Bobby Mann said he watched communities dry up when I-95 came along and warned that would happen to Woodland because of the solar farms.
“You’re killing your town,” he said. “All the young people are going to move out.”
He said the solar farms would suck up all the energy from the sun and businesses would not come to Woodland.
Comments made by the Manns were widely reproduced across web sites in the United States and internationally. However, Jane Mann’s concerns differed slightly from Bobby Mann’s, who likened the transformation of the town to the one that occurred when Interstate 95 routed through the area and affected the flow of commerce. While both cited ambient fears about the panels’ effect on the local ecosystem, the latter concern spoke more directly to general worries about large-scale changes to the local economy.
We contacted the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and spoke to author Keith Hoggard about the article and its unexpected reach. He confirmed that The Independent‘s take was mostly accurate, and that the residents didn’t want another solar panel installation.
However, it’s worth mentioning that Hoggard’s original article mainly addressed residents’ concerns about the impact of multiple solar farms on property values and local commerce. Some residents expressed fears about solar panel safety, but they were not the sole voices of dissent at the council meeting.