Calhoun County Council will consider a moratorium on the construction of new solar projects after hearing complaints from residents.
“I beg you to please put a moratorium up and to stop this solar farm development until it can be studied further,” Fort Motte resident Bobby Temple told council during its regularly scheduled meeting Monday.
“We know it is coming. There is pressure on us to put clean power generation up,” he said.
He said there are rumors that a landowner plans to sell significant acreage to a solar company. Temple wants an ordinance that stipulates which tracts of land can be used for solar projects and which cannot.
“What is going to happen when these things degrade?” Temple said. “Who is going to take them out?”
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Temple described Fort Motte as having an abundance of beauty with “cotton, bright cotton flowing like an ocean of whiteness.”
“It is just a breathtaking place,” he said. “We should avoid anything that would take away from the vista that lies there. It is our agricultural foundation.”
Temple was among many who spoke against solar project growth in the county.
“There is a time and place for solar in certain areas of the county that aren't ag heavy, non-industrial park sites,” Calhoun County Administrator John McLauchlin said.
McLauchlin received council approval to begin talking with the county attorney about composing language to put a moratorium in place.
Councilwoman Rebecca Bonnette asked if the moratorium can be longer than six months. She suggested waiting until the county’s 2024 comprehensive plan, which is currently under development, is in place and includes community input on zoning.
“We will certainly look into that,” McLauchlin said.
McLauchlin said the moratorium language will be shared with council before proceeding.
Bonnette requested the county attorney work with an environmental resource like the South Carolina Environmental Law Project before moving forward.
Sandy Run resident Amy Hill, referring to a S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control fact sheet on solar panels, noted the panels may contain hazardous materials such as lead.
“You can't even dump them in county sites or landfills without them being tested,” Hill said. “You have to grind the glass and do all kinds of stuff to send it off and test it and there is not even any sites close by here.”
“If we are going to do something in the 2024 plan, we need to make sure farmers are well informed of the hazards and toxins that are laced within these, particularly the ones from China,” Hill said. “They do have lead in the welding and some toxic materials in the glass.”
Hill asked what will happen if a solar company goes out of business or goes bankrupt.
Hill said solar projects can also lower the property values of surrounding areas by creating an eyesore.
Janet Echols, a St. Matthews resident, also requested a moratorium until the comprehensive plan can be completed.
Echols said low-income individuals are the ones who will most be negatively impacted by solar farms. She said one family in Calhoun County used to be surrounded by wildlife and is now an island “in a sea of glass and plastic and metal.”
“The value of these family homes are how a fraction of their pre-solar value,” Echols said. “The solar projects in rural communities disproportionately affect low-income families whose ancestral homes will be swallowed up by the project and general wealth and heritage would forever be lost.”
Echols asked if large landowners and solar companies would be willing to surround their own homes with “chain link fences and solar panels.”
Forte Motte resident Francis Mack said, “The solar projects ... are not farms.
“They are solar arrays, they are industrial applications and they should be located accordingly.”
Mack said he is concerned about his grandchildren growing up in the country.
“I know there is a lot of pressure even coming down from the federal level. We want solar for environmental benefits. There is a lot more environmental benefits to planting trees instead of putting up glass panels in fields,” he said.
“The trees will absorb the carbon dioxide. They will sequester it. It is a net positive. It is much more effective to plant trees than to plant glass,” Mack said.
St. Matthews pastor Larry Wagner said solar panels break down over time.
“Almost all of them are made in China,” Wagner said. “China is sending their trash in the form of glass and giving us solar panels that they are glad to get rid of in China and they know they are not going to last.”
”There are a bunch of Chinese people that are laughing at us because we bought their junk,” Wagner said.
Councilman Cecil Thornton said, “We aren't going to look at this lightly.”
“I think all five of us love this county. I am not going to sit in this seat and fleece Calhoun County for any kind of benefit that we don't want as a county,” he said.
Thornton said he has received a number of emails and phone calls about the matter.
He expressed his appreciation for the concerns of the community.
“We all realize we work for the people of the county,” Thornton said. “We do know who we work for.”
Council Chairman James Haigler said council members are there to serve.
“It is not like we get paid millions of dollars to serve,” Haigler said. “I love Calhoun County. That is why we are up here. Nobody wants to ram anything down anyone's throat. There are always two sides to a problem and we have to look at both sides.”
“I think we are here for the betterment of the county,” Haigler said. “If we can help it, nobody is going to hurt Calhoun County as long as I am here. I can assure you that.”