Community Challenges To Going Solar

Farmer Norm Welker on his land in Starke county, Indiana, where a solar power field is being constructed. Photograph: Taylor Glascock/The Guardian

Our thanks to Oliver Milman, as ever, and the Guardian, as always, for this story from the front lines of getting it done in spite of opposition:

One of Connie Ehrlich’s anti-solar billboards in Winamac, Indiana. Photograph: Taylor Glascock/The Guardian

‘It’s got nasty’: the battle to build the US’s biggest solar power farm

A community turns on itself over the aptly named Mammoth solar project, a planned $1.5bn power field nearly the size of Manhattan

When proposals for the largest solar plant ever conceived for US soil started to gather pace – a plan that involves spearing several million solar panels into the flat farmland of northern Indiana – something in Connie Ehrlich seems to have snapped.

Ehrlich, 63, is part of a longstanding farming family in Pulaski county, the site of the new solar project, but doesn’t live in the county and previously only rarely dabbled in its usually somnolent local politics. She has carved out a comfortable life in a sprawling mansion set on 10 acres (four hectares) of land, just outside the city of Lafayette, and is known locally for her donations to medical research and her small fleet of deluxe cars with personalized license plates.

But to Ehrlich the idea of transferring 13,000 acres of prized farmland to solar energy production seems to have been so unthinkable that it demanded an extraordinary response. Within months of the project being proposed she had mobilized her wealth to fund a flurry of lawsuits, spearheaded a sometimes-vituperative pressure group and spent $3m buying new plots of land, including a cemetery, on the fringes of the project.

Ehrlich even acquired an office next door to the solar developer’s own premises – and in its window a cartoon has been placed showing Joe Biden shoveling cash into the mouths of solar developers, depicted as pigs in a sty.

The solar farm, which could have its goal of completion next year delayed because of the lawsuits, has stirred up strong feelings among some in Pulaski“It’s got nasty, really nasty,” said Derrick Stalbaum, a hog farmer who also acts as president of the county’s board of zoning appeals. “It’s surprising as we live in a quiet area with a huge sense of community usually.”

The opponents of the solar project, a $1.5bn venture appropriately called Mammoth that is set to span an area almost as large as Manhattan, say they are defying an egregious assault on time-honored farming traditions and are standing up to a newcomer that threatens to warp their pastoral way of life with Chinese-made technology. “We need to protect America’s farmland,” Ehrlich wrote in a February post for the Pulaski County Against Solar group’s Facebook page. “Not only from being sacrificed for the inefficient, unreliable energy generation, but from foreigners’ interest!”…

Read the whole article here.

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