ICYMI: Knox County Solar & Wind Power Public Hearing
Updated: May 28
Here's a general summary of the themes that were brought up at the hearing.
You can read a pretty thorough article from Knox Pages if you want more of the direct quotes and names of residents who spoke. It's nearly a transcript.
And the commissioners said they will have minutes if you want the exact details of the entire hearing, once they post those (last I checked, no minutes had been posted yet).
Generally speaking though, I can tell you that so many people showed up that they had to move the hearing into the main theatre - the county seemed taken off-guard by the large attendance.
The hearing was held as a requirement, because the laws have very recently changed bestowing authority over this kind of development for the first time to county-level government. It seemed like ground zero for the commissioners, and again, I do not think they expected so much response when they announced this hearing. Teresa BeMiller specifically addressed the crowd explaining the commissioners had no resolution, or any kind of any previous action towards one. No one has moved to ban solar & wind projects, but rather they were having the hearing as a starting point to understand their constituency before doing anything else.
If they should pass a resolution, voters can petition to put it to referendum (with 8% of voter signatures on petition), and the county would vote on that resolution to ban solar & wind power.
They gave every speaker 3 minutes and stayed until there were no more speakers (two hours!!). Yes, they cut people off after the 3 minutes - usually not even letting the speaker finish the last thought. Everyone who went over 3 minutes was cut-off rather identically.*
The commissioners are continuing to take any information or supporting claims any county resident would like them to have as they weigh options. Email them directly through the county commissioners site.
The choices right now seem to be 2: a county-wide resolution banning all future solar & wind developments OR having no policy and deciding on a case-by-case bases.
There was a nearly even split between those supporting solar and wind power and those against it, maybe something like 40/60 con/pro, HOWEVER the number of speakers who spoke against development of solar & wind power in Knox County was muuuuuuch greater than those who spoke for it.
99.9% of what was said focused on solar (rather than wind), and industrial projects (vs. residential). That seemed like a reaction to a couple of proposed industrial projects in the county. Some of the companies involved in those, as well as other solar companies (residential installations) spoke at the hearing (in support).
At the same time though, the points made by both sides were fairly repetitive and I can concisely list for you what supporting reasons were given by speakers. Please keep in mind I am only reporting what was said, not commenting or judging any of it. I am giving you the info so you can pass judgement for yourself! :)
provides revenue for landowners
saves residential property owners money in reduced electric bills
provides revenue and other economic benefits for entire communities leasing land to solar farms
The CON arguments are based on misinformation
promotes energy independence (national security)
provides steady income for small farmers
provides opportunities for farmers to diversify
preserves agricultural land
allows for flexibility to mitigate climate change
preserves our quality of life for future and for children
allowing solar & wind preserves landowners rights
toxic or otherwise harmful to human health -- runoff, heavy metals, sound pollution, electromagnetic fields
all components of all solar panels everywhere are made in China only
harmful to trees and wildlife: deer, turkey, birds
harmful to soil: desertifies soil (causes loss in soil productivity)
competes with agricultural land use, which should be a preservation priority here and solar & wind decrease food security
bad landscape aesthetics: unpleasing to look at
the same acreage for solar farms vs (natural gas plants) produced less power
destroys capitalism, will allow for fascism, and/or Russia & China dominance
The PRO arguments are based on misinformation: alternative fuel sources are a way for Big Banks and billionaires to control us; they are lying to us so they can build solar farms - in the name of posterity, I want to be sure I represent this idea well, so I will share a specific quote...at one point the analogy of children trying to "get one past their parents" was used to support this theme.
the Texas solar infrastructure failed once due to ice
California uses solar and anything related to California is not appropriate for Knox Co. - this theme was about climate and culture
what we have with natural gas and fracking works, is fine, change to them is unnecessary, possibly dangerous
banning solar & wind preserves our quality of life for the future and for children
banning solar & wind protects landowner rights
Several supporting speakers were talked over or interrupted during their 3 minutes or mean-spirited incivilities including "go back to Texas" or California. I would like to point out here that one of those speakers was born in Knox County and grew up here, now is working for a local solar company. Those outbursts seemed to fill a purpose of being rude and perpetuating/venting difficult emotions. IMHO it was immature, unappreciated by the room and the commissioners, and needlessly disappointing regardless of where one may stand on the issue. No CON speaker was similarly interrupted or heckled.
Most of the day was driven by palpably heightened emotion on both sides.
I also kept a running tally of assumptions that kept coming up, which I find helpful to note:
All ag land use is not harmful to human health (only one speaker addressed this assumption directly)
Ag land use does not degrade soil
All ag land produces human food
All ag land loss in Knox County will stop if we ban solar & wind
Solar & wind development are driving current loses in ag land
Anything published online or in a book is true and dependably accurate
Any science published in Europe is permitted to be unstandardized, yet is still good science
the Dust Bowl was caused by deforestation
Solar & Christianity conflict and this country and county were founded on Christianity
Solar & wind technology is too remedial to work
the efficiency of solar is immutable: they work in sunny/hot places only, do not work during cool & cloudy conditions
solar panels contain heavy metals
lots of claims about what will happen in 5, 10...50 years - ALL ASSUMPTIONS
Solar panels demand increased water use because they require cooling & cleaning
Industrial and residential solar & wind projects present the same risks and detractions
And the reason I think we should keep these assumptions in mind is because of the nature of assumptions. Since assumptions are built on lack of information, as your friendly neighborhood horticultural therapy student, I would like to leave you with one nugget of basic neuroscience:
The human brain is pretty terrific at a great many things, but it sucks at handling lack of information. We are hardwired to fill in gaps of information with, not just bad info, but with THE WORST INFO POSSIBLE.
You know who does this the most?
The folks who deny their brains do it/are doing it/ever did it. Just saying.
Wherever you are on this issue, stay kind out there.
Happy to answer any questions anyone has if you want to leave a comment here or message us on FB or IG or F2F or...
Peace, Love, & Gardening,
*I took notes pretty short-handed style as more of a physical memory, and was able to note whenever someone was cut off after the 3-minute alarm sounded, and how that went (some folks asked for more time or argued with the commissioners). I am pointing this out here, but because the fair use of time was contended by a vociferous crowd member, yet my notes tell a pretty equal application of the time limit.