Tensions continue to run high between the citizens of Dike and the French Solar Company, Engie. The Hopkins County Commissioner’s court, which approved a tax abatement for the solar farm, held a public forum at the civic center on Monday night, in an effort to relieve concerns from the affected neighbors. The residents in Dike are very upset, and contend that they were not properly notified of the solar farm or what effects it would have on the community. More than 60 county residents showed up to first listen to a one-sided Zoom presentation from Ryan Economy, who is the Senior Advisor For Project Development for Engie’s North American office. After thirty minutes of technical issues, residents inside the civic center listened to the last half of Engie’s presentation of how a solar farm is good for the community of Dike. All participants were then allowed to ask specific questions to the advisors, but had to be typed into the software, instead of the normal Zoom protocol of live video and microphones. The sound quality inside the civic center proved to be sub-standard, so it was difficult for the participants to hear their questions asked and answered from the Engie team.
Community members were then allowed to speak and ask questions of the Commissioner’s Court, and the majority of those that spoke voiced concern over the lack of notification as well as all of the unknown impact that the solar farm will bring. Damage to roads, constant construction and operation noise, as well as the unsightly fencing and solar panels were major concerns throughout the night. Other residents brought up concerns about displacement of wildlife and the clear-cutting of trees to make way for the solar panels, which will cover over 1,800 acres, so far. The Hopkins County Commissioner’s Court maintained that they had followed the law by posting public notices in the Sulphur Springs News-Telegram, but Dike residents were not in agreement and had stated that only a handful of the residents still subscribe to the local paper. Citizens kept demanding that county officials should have done more to “get the word out.”
In the end, a lot of valid points were raised, but unfortunately due to the format, Engie was not able to hear the concerns voiced at the meeting. It will now be up to the Commissioner’s Court to reach out to the French firm and try to get some answers. Although the parent company of the French conglomerate boasts over 170,000 employess world-wide and had over $70 billion in revenue in 2019, not one employee chose to attend the meeting in person, and technical issues kept the Dike residents an arms-length away from being in full contact with the Solar Company.