Officials share details of proposed solar farm for Lamar County
LAMAR COUNTY, Miss. (WDAM) -- Lamar County neighbors will soon have an opportunity to learn more about a proposal that could bring a solar farm to the county.
Some neighbors are already voicing concerns about the project and the potential impact on the land, environment and property values.
The Lamar County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors would have to give the green light to grant permission for conditional use on the property involved.
Lightsource BP is working with a landowner to develop the farm on a nearly 1,700-acre property. If approved, the site would be called the Minkar Solar Farm and be located between Oak Grove and Purvis near the Okahola community.
Development manager Andy Taylor estimates there would be less than 250,000 panels.
“The goal is, as we build up our energy infrastructure, that electricity would go down in cost,” said Taylor.
Taylor said the company could not control electricity costs but hoped that more assets would lead to a decreased cost.
The project is a joint venture between Lightsource and BP. The group builds, operates and maintains energy projects across the globe.
Taylor said the $137 million project is privately funded and will bring millions to the county over a span of several years.
Lightsource BP also said it plans to be a good community partner by investing money into nearby charitable organizations and contributing to net zero carbon initiatives.
Lamar County Administrator Jody Waits told WDAM the property will not need to be rezoned.
“In this case, for a public utility, it would be properly zoned. It would just need a conditional use,” said Waits.
Waites said a public hearing had been set for January 10th in front of the Lamar County Planning Commission, but Taylor said plans have changed after feedback from the community.
“In an effort to really get into the community and understand the interest and concerns here, we are requesting with the county to postpone the presentation before the planning commission, and that way over the next 30, 60, 90 days, we can get into the community, talk to some of these folks, and address some of these concerns,” said Taylor.
Taylor said that a date for the community engagement session has not yet been set.
Lightsource BP will still need to present plans to the Lamar County Planning Commission.
“They’ll have to go before planning commission in order for planning commission to review it to make sure there are no negative impacts to the community, the environment,” said Waits.
After the planning commission hears from Lightsource, members will have to decide whether to approve or deny the property for conditional use.
The Lamar County Board of Supervisors would need to make the final decision after hearing from the planning commission.
Supervisors will also need to review site plans and various studies related to due diligence.
Waits emphasized the importance of hearing from everyone.
“Everybody deserves a fair shot of the process, whether you are a multi-million dollar company or you are someone who is building a $100,000 home. There is due process that everybody is entitled to,” Waits said.
The county is already familiar with solar farm operations. A separate company has a similar farm near Sumrall.
Waits said there had been no issues since its completion.
“That is a major investment from these companies, and along with it comes major tax dollars which we can build roads and provide money to the schools,” Waits continued. “We’ve had zero pushback from the current farm, and we’ve had several housing developments all around it; some are million dollars homes.”
Neighbors Voice Concerns
Lamar County residents have already shared concerns about the project on social media. An online petition had more than 100 signatures in just a few days.
WDAM reporter Will Polston spoke with two people who live near the site and are against the project.
Project leaders believes the company will ease concerns during the upcoming public engagement session.
“We focus on having things like what is called game fence or agriculture fence,” said Taylor. “It is a little more aesthetically pleasing. We focus heavily on setbacks and buffers and vegetative screenings, so we can have as minimal as an impact to the community as we possibly can.”
Several studies have already been completed, and more will need to be finished before the project can receive approval. Waits said environmental, engineering and even archeological studies must be done.
Developers also must follow local, state, and federal guidelines to address erosion, wildlife and other issues.
“Habitat and animals and wetlands and waters - all of those are part of things that we characterize and study to make sure we can leave the community with a net positive impact. Even after construction,” said Kim Wells, a director of development with Lightsource BP.
Wells said Lightsource BP works to make sure protected or endangered wildlife will not be threatened.
While some residents have shared concerns about electromagnetic radiation waves, Wells said buffers and setbacks should mitigate any concerns.
“We’re not aware of any evidence that suggests that EMF is present in substantial amounts that cause cancer or are linked with adverse health effects,” Wells said. “EMF falls off very quickly once you go away from the solar facility, and with the use of the appropriate use of buffers and setbacks, such as those we’ve presented in our application to Lamar County, we believe those concerns are more than addressed and don’t pose a health risk.”
The safety of solar panels has also been a fear for nearby residents.
Wells said the company only uses panels approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“We only use panels from suppliers that comply with that tier 1 requirement, so those panels are not hazardous and have been deemed safe by the federal government,” Wells said.
If the project is approved, managers hope to see construction begin in 2024 or 2025 and estimate it would last about 18 months.
Taylor said the Lamar County property was chosen after careful consideration.
“Solar facilities need a few things - land availability, willing landowners, proximity to transmission lines and the customer potential for somebody to come in and buy the power,” said Taylor.
Stay with WDAM for updates on a date for a public engagement session.
Minkar Solar Project Overview by Allen Brewer on Scribd
Lightsource Bp Resposible Solar Approach by Allen Brewer on Scribd
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