Environment

Appellate court judges unswayed by arguments that solar farms “might be connected to dead birds in California”

FLS Energy’s 2.4 megawatt solar farm in Warsaw, in Duplin County (Photo: FLS Energy)

S olar farms are ugly. Children should not see them. They might produce harmful radiation. They could be hit by hurricanes or tornadoes, or even be connected to the death of birds in California.

Solar farm opponents successfully argued all of these points before the Robeson County Commissioners two years ago. The commission subsequently denied Asheville-based FLS Energy a permit to build a facility — even though it had met all the criteria and had received the planning board’s blessing.

FLS Energy, which apparently does not think solar farms are unattractive, radioactive or unfit for children’s eyes or birds’ wings, appealed. In a decision announced yesterday, a three-judge panel from the state appellate court unanimously ruled in favor of FLS Energy.

Judges John Tyson, Ann Marie Calabria and Linda McGee dismissed opponents’ “unsupported and highly speculative claims about their unsubstantiated fears of solar farms and their possible dangers.” In fact, the judges ruled that the FLS Energy had met all the requirements to build and operate a solar farm in the Robeson County, and Commission was wrong to deny the permit.

The saga started in 2015, when FLS Energy received a conditional use permit from the Robeson County Planning and Zoning Board allowing the company to lease 40 acres of private land to build and operate a solar farm. The company met all the criteria, and the planning board determined that the project “would be in the best interests of the citizens of Robeson County.” The board unanimously voted to send the case to the Robeson County Commissioners, recommending that the project be approved.

At two commissioners meetings, several experts testified on behalf of FLS Energy, including Tommy Cleveland, an expert in solar farms at the NC State University Clean Technology Center. He testified that solar farms are safe in both the short-and long-term. Constructed with glass and aluminum, they do not contain any toxic components, he told the commissioners.

(Factcheck: The panels are manufactured using arsenic, lead and cadmium, but they’re enclosed in glass and other protective material when in use. The main threat, reported Grist.org, is the release of toxic materials during the manufacturing process and when they are dumped in landfills.)

A solar farm is better than a turkey farm Click To Tweet

A certified appraiser also testified that solar farms don’t harm nearby property values. He noted that developers had stated, “a solar farm is better than a turkey farm” because it produces no noise, odors or traffic.

After hearing the opponents’ arguments, county commissioners found the solar farm would “be injurious to the use and enjoyment of other property” nearby, would affect property values and would not “be in harmony” with the neighborhood.

Judge Tyson: vague assertions do not constitute competent evidence Click To Tweet

However, in his opinion for the appellate court, Judge Tyson wrote that the “speculative and general lay opinions and vague assertions do not constitute competent evidence” to deny the permit.

The judges sent the case back to superior court. It will direct the commissioners to grant the application and issue a permit to the company to construct and operate a solar farm on the proposed site.

There are eight solar farms in Robeson County, not including FLS, and ranks second in capacity, according to the NC Sustainable Energy Association. FLS has built 18 solar farms in North Carolina.

One Comment


  1. Steve Harrison

    June 7, 2017 at 10:23 am

    Here’s a comment I posted on Doug Clark’s page about this: ” This is good news. By the way, the “dead birds in California” thing is deeply flawed argument. While that plant is described as “Solar,” it’s not Solar PV (photovoltaic) like our farms are, it is a focused mirror array, that uses reflected sunlight to boil water, which spins a turbine. It’s the same thing coal plants do, but without the coal burning. And numerous birds have died when they flew into the focused Solar rays.”

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