Despite a large turnout of Shelby County residents opposed to an incoming solar plant and a couple of persuasive speeches, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners did not approve a moratorium about the topic at its meeting Monday morning.

The opposed residents, known as the Citizens Against Industrialized Solar Plants in Southwestern Shelby County, first appeared at a commissioners meeting two weeks ago to make the local government aware of their presence.

That’s when county commissioner Don Parker first suggested a six-month moratorium on the topic, which would postpone any action by solar plant companies so that the Shelby County government can have more time to review the topic.

Kyle Barlow, leading the opposition, delivered a long speech about the dangers of solar plants, both to the farming industry and the environment.

“The destruction continues as it moves forward and starts ripping the most highly productive topsoil from the farmland,” he said. “The metal beams are driven into the ground, piercing our once ever-valuable water tiling system that has helped produce high yield and helped farmers manage the water supply for their highly sought-after crop.”

“Once the panels are in place, we face the likelihood and the likely possibility that at some point over the next 25-35 years they will start leaking their highly toxic and deadly chemicals with their ‘forever-life-labels’ into our ground and eventually into our water supply,” he added.

Barlow specifically asked for a moratorium so the commissioners could review and possibly strengthen the Shelby County ordinance in regards to solar plants.

“We think this is a dangerous road to go down, when not enough information is available to make a sound and more importantly safe decision for the future of our county,” he said.

Brian Fischer shared his experience with nearly building his own private solar farm.

Fischer said five years ago he spent a couple months planning with a solar company to build enough panels on his property that would allow him to have a six year payback, and have free electricity for the next 25 years.

Before the planning was finished, the state changed the laws about how power could be sold back to the electric companies, and the payback time doubled. So they didn’t build the farm.

“I considered myself a fairly reasonable thorough person, and I thought I’d researched all the effects of the solar array would have on me and my family for the next 30 years,” he said. “But I never once – not once – thought about what was in the panels, and if they were an environmental hazard.”

“I never once thought what happens if we have a hailstorm over the next 30 years, and they were damaged, and rain was washing over the broken panels,” he added. “I never once thought what if we have a tornado, and the panels are twisted up and the tile exposed toxic chemicals.”

Fischer clarified that one of the chemicals in the panels is cadmium, which is a known, cancer-causing chemical.

Commissioner Parker motioned to place a moratorium on the topic, but the motion failed.

The other two commissioners told the roomful of people that they did not second the motion because a moratorium had been issued from April to October of 2019, and they found that no change was recommended to the ordinance.

“I was in favor of a moratorium the first time around, voted on it, and I feel that this process has been looked at,” Commissioner Kevin Nigh said. “I was glad that the Plan Commission is going to review it again.”

Commissioner Chris Ross said this was a complicated issue.

Only one company has been approved to build a solar plant. Ranger Power is building one near Morristown.

The commissioners said no other companies have expressed any interest in building in Shelby County to them; however, members of the opposition say they have received letters from out of state companies looking to come to the county.

Even though the moratorium was not approved, the Shelby County Plan Commission is already reviewing the issue and will continue to discuss it at next month’s meeting. The commissioners said that if the plan commission found something, the commissioners would review the issue again.
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