Lamar County residents plan town hall to push back against proposed solar farm
LAMAR COUNTY, Miss. (WDAM) - Neighbors in Lamar County have a community meeting planned for July 31 to voice concerns over a proposed solar panel farm off old Highway 11.
Concerned residents plan to meet Monday, July 31, at the Mill Creek Community Center at 6 p.m.
In January, we told you Lightsource BP wants to operate a 90-megawatt farm, but plans have been on hold while the company worked with Lamar County leaders and completed studies related to the project.
While the company organized, so did neighbors like Lindsay Thomley and Randy Penton.
The pair created several signs, a social media group, and an online petition to raise awareness about their fears.
“This is the land I grew up on,” said Thomley, who has family land on Jake Johnson Road. “I spent all my life playing in that pond and in the creek and enjoying the wildlife.”
The roadway is near the project site. Penton lives a few houses down and has multiple signs opposing the project in his yard. A growing number of neighbors also put signs in their yards.
“We started knocking on doors, starting a webpage, and making flyers, and just trying to wake up the community,” said Penton.
In January, Lightsource BP shared more about what is being called the “Minkar Project.”
It would be a $137 million capital investment. Property taxes from the project would be a boost to the county’s tax base over the life of the project if the project gets the green light.
During a conversation in July, Development Director Kimberly Wells shared more about the plans for the power that could be generated from the facility.
“We are going to inject with the Mississippi Power Company,” said Wells. “We have an on-site point of interconnection that will go into their grid and then their grid serves local customers which includes people in the area of Lamar County. It is not accurate to say 100 percent of that energy would go to Lamar County because that is not actually how the grid works.”
Wells said since January, Lightsource BP has worked with Lamar County leaders to increase buffer zones and setbacks where there were noted concerns. In some cases, Wells said minimum setbacks went from 50 feet to 300 feet.
Project leaders have also met with federal wildlife officials about a permitting plan for protected gopher tortoises on the property. Lightsource BP representatives also met with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to discuss regulation of the solar industry and concerns over stormwater.
Company representatives still plan to hold a public meeting later this year but have not set a date yet.
“Lamar County has asked we only present an area that will not change,” Wells said. “Meaning it is not going to get bigger and there would not be panels in new or different places within that area. So although we were very excited about having a meeting very early on, we have been working with the county and doing our diligence to make sure when we get to that point that we are at a design that incorporates a whole lot of early-stage, to mid-stage, to late-stage things, that prompts us to have to do that sooner.”
Wells said they’re working to make sure a visual overview is ready for public view.
“That shows exactly where there are existing vegetation in the form of timber and some cases shrubs and then where we might need to adjust that with some gaps during construction,” Wells said.
While Lightsource BP is excited about the project’s potential and has the support of the property owner, nearby residents want to make sure their voice is also heard.
“It is up to the property owner to a certain point, but when it affects other people around them, what good does that do? Are you really helping your neighbor, your community?” Thomley asked.
Wells said it is typical for landowners who may not be adjacent to the project to share opinions, but added that regulators have a lot to consider.
“Those opinions are important, but I think to the regulating entity, which in this case is Lamar County, an adjacent landowner needs to count for a lot more than a landowner that is half a mile away,” Wells said. “Likewise, it is very important not to underestimate the role of the participating landowner or landowners as they are a big stakeholder.”
Thomley has expressed fears that the solar farm will be an eyesore with a negative impact on property values and the environment. She’s also expressed concern about health effects from EMF and the panels, but Lightsource BP maintains it will be a safe operation.
“Our panels are not toxic,” Wells said. “At Lightsource BP, we only use panels that pass a strict testing protocol by the environmental protection agency. We only use panels that are manufactured mostly in the U.S. or North America. There’s been some concerns about manufacturing in China and Lightsource bp does not use panels manufactured overseas.”
“People need to do their own research, don’t believe what we say in itself, or what these other people say,” Penton said. “They are getting paid to say what they say but do your own research.”
Wells understands that not everyone will be in favor of the project but wants to make sure neighbors have factual information to make informed decisions about what to support.
“Some may or may not be accepting of our view or what we are trying to do and that is OK, but we found the majority of people are very receptive to a balanced viewpoint,” Wells said. “They want to know their sources of information and they want to know those sources of information are credible and then they want to make their own decision.”
Lamar County leaders previously said since Lightsource BP is applying for a conditional use permit as a utility, no zoning change will be required since it is a utility.
After Lightsource BP sets and holds a public informational meeting, the company will have to present to the Lamar County Planning Commission.
The planning commission will make a recommendation to the Lamar County Board of Supervisors. Supervisors will ultimately make the final decision to approve or deny the CUP.
No date has been set for Lightsource BP’s public meeting or a presentation before the Lamar County Planning Commission.
Monday’s citizen-led town hall meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the Mill Creek Community Center.
“We all need to play our part and let our voice be heard, whether it be negative or positive to speak out about this,” Thomley said.
To watch the raw interview with Lightsource BP, click HERE.
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