There’s a viral story going around about a North Carolina town that rejected solar panels because “they would soak up all the sun.” Because North Carolina is in the South, and everyone in the South is stupid, right? It’s all too easy to believe!
But it turns out there is more to the story than that.
Snopes is always a good resource for this sort of thing, and they’re on the case this time, as well.
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. ... **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.**
As Snopes points out:
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.
I admit that I didn’t take this story with the requisite grains of salt, myself. Clearly, at least one person was worried about solar panels somehow monopolizing the sun’s rays, but this didn’t characterize most of the criticism surrounding building yet another solar farm. Rather, residents believed it would be detrimental to the local economy and promote the further decline of the town’s population–valid fears, given how things had unfolded there.
It is unfortunate that a story about genuine economic malaise went viral in the guise of stereotypes about dumb Southerners/rural folks. Woodland is likely not alone in its economic troubles, and the comments of one or two residents shouldn’t make it fair game for national mockery. We can and should do better.