More than 50 community members and media personnel turned out Saturday for a Save Dike From Solar meeting at Dike Community Center to express their concerns and focus on unification of like-minded community members opposed to the planned Hopkins Energy LLC project in the Dike area.
Community residents at the Saturday afternoon meeting expressed exasperation that more effort wasn’t made to notify Dike resident about the project before it and other solar projects were granted tax incentives from county, school and hospital taxing entities, upon which each project was contingent. The say the residents of the area that will be impacted, those on neighboring properties, should have been part of the decision process.
Save Dike From Solar organizers say they were told the information was published in the newspaper prior to it first being approved by school, county and hospital districts. Save Dike From Solar contends less than 40 of the 375-400 residents and property owners in Dike receive the newspaper, so that listing was not sufficient to properly notify the Dike community.
County officials have pointed out that Commissioners Court meetings are open to the public; agendas are posted on the county bulletin board and online for anyone who wishes to view them. School board agendas are also required to be posted for public viewing. Martin encouraged Dike residents to attend future school and county meetings to voice their opinions regarding the planned solar project during public forum.
Cynthia Martin, founder of Save Dike From Solar, and Michael Pickens, Martin’s son and the group spokesman, have attended more than one Commissioners Court meeting, along with a few other Dike residents, to express their displeasure about the planned Dike solar project.
Martin said “finding accurate information” about the planned project has been “incredibly difficult.” She has filed Freedom of Information requests with the county, and recently received a packet of documents over a few inches thick related to the project.
Pickens said the grassroots group has three primary goals: to point out the “reality of the project” and potential environmental destruction, in the hope of getting the project shut down, or at least getting local officials to rescind legal agreements granting tax incentives for the solar project, which has changed hands from German company Alpin Sun to ENGIE Solar N.A., LLC, a U.S. subsidiary of the French ENGIE company.
Dike residents Saturday protested the lack of local long-term jobs provided by the Dike project and other planned local solar projects. They pointed out the minimum job requirement was waived by local officials who have already granted tax incentives for Hopkins Energy LLC and at least three other projects. Saltillo ISD school district has also reportedly agreed to accept an application to be submitted to Texas Comptroller’s Office to determine if it meets state requirements allowing schools to grant the requested tax incentive.
Pickens contends that based on the information he’s received and researched the planned project isn’t for a solar farm but a solar industrial power complex.
The proposed Hopkins Energy LLC project was originally projected to encompass 2,962 acres in northeastern Hopkins County and be a 320 MW-AC solar electric generating facility, with 1,625,000 photovoltaic panels, and 140 central inverters. Of those, an estimated 1,184 acres is expected to be in Sulphur Springs ISD; that would include 128 MW-AC of capacity, 650,000 photovoltaic panels and 56 central inverters in SSISD. The rest would be located on land within Sulphur Bluff ISD.
Save Our Solar is concerned not only with noise during construction but from the solar facility once it is placed online. Pickens said when he asked he was told the noise generated from a solar facility will sound like a major highway going through Dike. That he anticipates would likely be louder than the farm to market and county road traffic Dike residents are used to.
A large section of post oak forest will need to cleared in order to install solar panels on leased acreage. Community members indicated they do not want the trees gone. That would disturb native wildlife which some residents have indicated they enjoy watching from their properties, and could lead to at least one environmental concern.
Michael Teague noted bald eagles have been known to rest in that area, and clear cutting the forest would disturb the habitat. He also asked if the area had been checked for Indian burial mounds.
Save Dike From Solar representatives and Dike residents also expressed concerns with solar panels being place in a flood zone. Cutting the trees down would likely further contribute to flooding issues in the area. They were told a complete environmental impact assessment of the impact the project could potentially have on wetlands and creeks was not required.
The group spokesman is worried about potential toxins, including cadmium, that could be contained in the panels which – if broken by a big hale storm, tornado or other storm debris – could seep into the ground.
They are concerned harmful chemical will be used to kill native grass under solar panels, which could also impact the environment.
Pickens said it’s his understanding the solar panels would be set in 3-5 feet of concrete, which he said goes against statements in the “original lease agreements” which indicated the company would not build on land with trees, creeks and in a flood area.
The project would likely require 17-foot tall fences, have security cameras and require additional roads through the properties.
Save Dike From Solar wants to know what provisions are in place not only to repair local roads when construction of the solar project is completed but to maintain county roads while heavy trucks use them to deliver materials to construct the solar facility.
Robert Joslin doesn’t cotton to the idea of solar panels and substations across the fence from his property.
The impact a solar farm will have on neighboring property values was another concern expressed at the meetings. Pickens cited a University of Texas study, which he said indicated property values around solar farms are projected to decrease by 20 percent.
One resident noted that area coal powered plants which generated power continuously 24 hours a day, 7 days a week were shut down for environmental concerns. Now, solar projects are planned. There’s no sunlight at night, so it’s his understanding the solar facility wouldn’t be able to generate power at night, nor any or at least limited power during cloudy and icy weather.
The idea that the power generated by the solar panels won’t directly benefit the local community, but be sent up the grid to other more metropolitan areas such as Dallas, was another point of contention voiced for Dike residents.
Save Dike from Solar invited representatives from Texas Conservation Alliance to the meeting. Two representatives attended, but emphasized they were just observing at this point as the matter has not been presented to TCA board. No representatives from local government nor ENGIE were observed in attendance.
Martin and Pickens reported an Austin attorney has been contacted to represent Save Dike From Solar’s interests. Donations were accepted in a gallon jar Saturday from any community members who wished to contribute toward legal costs.
A petition was passed around at the meeting for any Dike residents who wished to join Save Dike From Solar’s effort in protest of solar projects. Martin said the meeting was the first but does not plan for it to be the last for Save Dike From Solar.
A Facebook page was established for any who wish to join Save Dike From Solar to follow the group and keep up with activities.