Solar Farms Banned!

In recent news, some solar farm projects have been rejected for environmental reasons! Bear with me a while.

In 1815, William McVoy petitioned the Spanish governor for a grant of land at Chinmele.  The grant was first denied because that area was listed as Indian lands.  McVoy’s countered, “What Indians?”  The Indians had seen the Spaniards, like McVoy, moving up from the south and the Americans moving in from the north, with Andrew Jackson just being an overall pain, so they had left Chinmele.  McVoy got his grant and set off a land rush over the next 5 years.

Among the restrictions on a land grant, usually 800 arpents or several hundred acres, were that you would keep the land for yourself, you would inhabit and you would cultivate within two years.  That’s the deal Juan Malagosa agreed to when he got a grant at Chinmele in 1820.  Almost immediately, he “flipped” the land to American Andrew Mitchell.  Methinks this was a prearranged deal.  Everybody knew that Spain’s grip on La Florida was slipping and by 1821, Florida was welcomed to the USA, where it would remain for 40 years.

Andy Mitchell built a mill and seemed to do well, cutting timber on the public land above his mill.  The thing about trees is that when it rains, the leaves soften the impact of the rain drops and the leaves on the ground act like a sponge.  Water is absorbed into the earth and aquifers are replenished.  Andy’s mill did well until a big rainfall came to the rolling hills above the mill and the runoff rushed down and blew out his dam.  Some dam failure modes make it impossible to rebuild.

Fast forward to the 20th century.  1948.  Chinmele is now known as McDavid, Florida, and Claude Welch is building a mill just downstream from Andrew Mitchell’s.  Claude was a real go-getter, one of the first in the area to have running water (from a water-powered pump) and electricity (from a Delco-Light).  The gristmill down the road in Bogia was closing, so Claude bought the turbine and stones from the Franklin Mill up in Brewton, Alabama.  I’m guessing Claude liked his cornbread made with fresh meal.  Everything was going well with the new dam and the mill house was constructed.   However, up on the hill, Florida Pulp and Paper Company, new owners of the land, clear cut all the pines up there and the rains came.  Once again, Mitchell Creek flooded and blew out Claude’s new dam.   It was a small breach, but too expensive to repair and today there is barely any sign of it.  Are you starting to see a pattern?

Fast forward again to the 21st century.  Next Era Energy wants to build a solar farm on the hill.  Surveys, studies, archaeological assessments and environmental reviews all pass muster and the trees are all cut off so that 600 acres of solar panels can be installed.  And then it rains…

It has been a while since anyone has built a dam, but every time it rains a river of mud flows down Bogia Road toward the Baptist meeting house.  Drive carefully.  Next day, the bobcats come out (the stubby metal kind) come out and attempt to drag the lost acreage back up the hill.  Grass is planted, terraces are formed and hay bales and mud fences are staked out.  Eventually they’ll get it under control.

So, you see, there can be environmental consequences of trying to save the environment with solar.  Since the Cotton Creek plant was put in, two more have been placed in our county.  That’s 1800 acres of rolling hills lost to agriculture and forestry and now needing constant attention until the erosion is under control.

Now, I am all for solar.  I have my solar and I have a financial interest in Next Era, but I think we need to be careful.  One study I’ve seen declares if we just cover roof tops with solar we’ll have enough to go around.  Amazon, WalMart and other companies with big stores and distribution centers are adding solar to their roofs at no additional demand on land.  How about parking lots?  A lot of people just leave their cars running to keep them cool while shopping here in Florida.  Imagine having the parking lot at WalMart or Home Depot shaded with a solar canopy!  Canals are being covered with solar, with the added benefit of reduced evaporation.  There are plenty of ways that solar can be deployed without taking over croplands or causing environmental problems.

There has been a huge rush to deploy solar and I think the rush is  a big part of the problem.  Solar and wind only provide about 20% of US power, so hopefully lessons will be learned from these early installations will be applied to improve things in the future.  And localities that have banned or limited solar projects can get the power they need without causing havoc.–Neal

P.S.  Paying attention to history can help avoid making the same mistakes over and over again, but it seems history has been on the back burner here in Chinmele, 32568.  My cohorts and I have been on a documentary and archaeological quest for the history of this little town.  Pass by on US 29 and about all you will see is the church, Post Office, the firehouse and the store.  We’ve found railroads, sawmills, potsherds and lithics, cemeteries, a camp meeting ground, a quarantine camp, hotels and remnants of Andrew Mitchell’s occupation.  In the early 1960s, a gentleman was building a house on the edge of the Hot Pond, aka Lake Chinmele, when a group of Indians arrived by canoe, went to a specific spot and dug up the ashes of their ancestral council fire.  They left, never to be seen there again.  About a century and a half after McVoy declared the land abandoned by the Indians, the Creeks apparently made it official.  Yeah, I know.  Sometimes John talks about fish in his blog, so I get to talk about history every once in a while.




Way Down Upon the Suwanee River

My brother and I drove across Florida from Pensacola to Lake City on business. It was good to put faces to the voices we knew from the phone calls. What we were not expecting to see were thousands of solar panels. The last few times I’ve been across Interstate 10, all you’d see of note on I-10 was the devastation of Hurricane Michael.

Suddenly, I realized something and told Andy, “Hey, we own that!” At least we own a few hundred shares of the company that owns that.

That Florida, the alleged Sunshine State, has solar farms is not unexpected. Suwanee County is timber country and was not devastated by the hurricane. They did have some pine beetle problems, so maybe they decided to get out of the pine tree business and into power.

I found some newspaper clippings and was surprised to see how quickly it had happened. NextEra started the approval process something like a year and a half ago for a solar farm that is to be built a mile from my place. There was a flurry of activity last year with surveyors and such, but not the first post hole has been dug. You just wouldn’t believe the regulatory hurdles involved!

Financing is always an issue and so is material supply. So many solar farms are going in that the module plants are running flat out with backorders. Folks who use import panels are now having to deal with China essentially being shut down owing to the Wuhan Flu. It is always something isn’t it?

On the return trip, as we drove west of Tallahassee, approaching Marianna, we were back in the hurricane zone. Millions of pine trees were broken off half way up. Acres of land were layered as high as a house in wood chips made from clearing all the downed trees. This seemed an area suited for a new solar farm. The entire power grid was wiped out in this area, so they had to start from scratch. Have they incorporated Solar-Plus-Storage in their plans? Don’t know, but it would seem a good idea.

More notable than the solar farm we saw and the place I thought would be good for another one was the total absence of rooftop and backyard solar. Maybe we just didn’t see it from the Interstate. Again, if you are rebuilding from scratch and had gone through a period of months without power, you’d want solar, wouldn’t you? Perhaps the priority was to get a roof and solar will come later.

If you do decide to go solar, YOU should not have to worry about the kinds of shortages that concern the big boys. John does not generally import the Chinese modules and much of what he buys comes from factory closeouts, bankruptcy auctions and used panels from decommissioned arrays. You’d be surprised how much of that stuff is around when you have a solar bloodhound like John on the hunt. Sun Electronics always seems to have a good inventory at great prices.