Solar Farm Banned Over Fear It'll Suck Up the Sun's Energy-Mostly Fiction!

Solar Farm Banned Over Fear It’ll Suck Up the Sun’s Energy-Mostly Fiction!-Mostly Fiction!

Summary of eRumor:
A town in North Carolina has banned solar farms over fear that they’ll “suck up all the energy from the sun,” according to reports.
The Truth:
It’s true that a town in North Carolina voted against a solar farm, but supervisors said they did so because it would have been too close to homes and state highway.
The rumor that a North Carolina town voted against a solar farm because it would “suck up all the sun’s energy” went viral in December 2015. However, that idea was floated by a citizen during the public comment section of a town board meeting in Woodland — not by elected town officials. A local newspaper, the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, reported on a group of citizens who spoke at the meeting:

Bobby Mann said he watched communities dry up when I-95 came along and warned that would happen to Woodland because of the solar farms.

“You’re killing your town,” he said. “All the young people are going to move out.”

He said the solar farms would suck up all the energy from the sun and businesses would not come to Woodland.

Jane Mann, who who was identified as a retired science teacher, said she feared the solar farms would prevent photosynthesis from occurring because it depends on sunlight:

Jane Mann said she is a local native and is concerned about the natural vegetation that makes the community beautiful.

She is a retired Northampton science teacher and is concerned that photosynthesis, which depends upon sunlight, would not happen and would keep the vegetation from growing. She said she has observed areas near solar panels where vegetation is brown and dead because it did not receive enough sunlight.

She also questioned the high number of cancer deaths in the area, saying no one could tell her that solar panels didn’t cause cancer.

“I want to know what’s going to happen,” she said. “I want information. Enough is enough. I don’t see the profit for the town.

The original report didn’t provide any quotes from town supervisors about why they had voted against the proposed solar farm, and people across the web assumed that it was because of Bobby Mann’s fear that it would “suck up all the sun’s energy.”  After the story went viral, however, supervisors came forward to explain the real reasons for their decision, the Charlotte Observer reports:

Ron Lane, the Woodland councilman, said the town has received profanity-laced voice mails and enraged emails from people around the country.

Ultimately, he said, the Strata Solar project was not doomed by irrational fears. The photovoltaic panels were proposed just 50 feet from residential homes, and the project was too close to State Route 258 leading into town.

“We’re not opposed to the solar farm itself, just that particular location,” Lane said. “We wanted to make sure they didn’t overtake the town.”

And even though the ideas that a solar farm could suck up all the sun’s energy or prevent photosynthesis are clearly wrong — it’s be a mistake to discount similar concerns about the impaact of solar farms on local vegetation.
Dr. Alona Armstrong, a faculty fellow in energy at Lancaster Environment Center at Lancaster University in England, wrote that little is known about solar farms’ impact on plants, soil and climate, and more research is needed to develop solar farms that maximize environmental benefits:

…We just don’t know enough about what happens to the soil, plants and wildlife in areas where ground mounted (photovoltaics) parks are constructed. The phenomenon is still a new one and rapid development is taking place on the basis of ignorance. But the effect the PV panels have on the local climate and what impact this has on the plants and soil is very important.

Soil is the most significant player in storing carbon — containing more than vegetation and the atmosphere combined — and the interaction between soil and plants regulates carbon storage and the release of greenhouse gases. So the expansion of solar parks matter for the carbon cycle, the growth rate of plants, the amount of carbon locked up in the soil, the release of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere and the types of species that can live in the new conditions. Mass use of solar farms over time will increase the areas affected and the scale of the new phenomenon.

In conclusion, the ideas that solar farms could suck up all the sun’s energy or prevent photosynthesis are clearly off base. Still, there are valid questions about the impact of solar farms on local vegetation growth and carbon cycles that need to be answered to maximize the potential of solar energy in the future.