Oakey Ridge residents speak out against proposed solar farm

Published 7:30 am Monday, August 14, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Residents of the Oakey Ridge community addressed the Covington County Commission during a meeting Tuesday, August 8, to voice concerns with a proposed solar project in their community.

The commission is considering a proposal by Origis Energy for the placement of a 2,400 solar farm in the community, but some residents continue to speak out against the project.

One of those residents, Shannon Wiggins, said he did not think the solar farm is in the best of interest of those who reside in the community.

“While the promises of solar energy hold some potential for sustainable development, we must ensure it aligns with our shared values. Forests and wetlands are not just a collection of trees and bodies of water. They are the heart and the lungs of our community. This 2,400-acre project going on in my community will surround my home, and encompassing most of my community,” Wiggins said.

Walk Easy Farm owner and operator Matthew McClellan referred to materials he received from Origis and requested the commission hold a moratorium before moving forward with the project.

“There’s no reason we need to cut down 3,000 acres to put down something that is called ‘abundant,’ which means it is everywhere. People at Origis would like you to believe that solar power is clean. Clean is not clean if you have to take 1,400 degrees Kelvin to melt the silica sand. When you heat something up to almost 4,000 degrees, it’s no longer the same material. It’s called a chemical change, which comes from burning … This is a money ploy, and they are here in our county to take our resources. We are asking the commission to help protect us right now. Our community is asking for a six-month moratorium, so we can have time to explore these projects and find out what the best thing is for our county. Origis Solar says they are offering $24 to $28 million over the course of a 50-year project. This is a power plant that is set to be in our community for 50 years, but it’s not our community anymore when we live around a power plant,” McClellan said.

According to county attorney Morgan Arrington, a county commission does not have the same planning and zoning authority as a city.

“Without any planning or zoning, I am not familiar with any type of relief the commission could offer the adjoining landowners. I am unfamiliar with any legal mechanism that would allow you to institute a moratorium unless or until this project becomes a governmental project. There is not a way for you to be directly involved through a moratorium or otherwise,” Arrington said.

Dist. 2 Commissioner Michael Smith inquired about Origis asking for tax abatements.

“If the commission was being asked to come to the table and do any type of abatements or incentives, then, yes, you would be able to consider whether to engage in any of those. If so, the commission can ask what the conditions would be. This is a private enterprise if it does not involve this body or the property that is entrusted to this body. For those seeking some type of abatement or incentive, this would be a private affair that would need to be handled in the civil arena,” Arrington stated.

“If we are approached requesting abatements, we can vote up or down to request an amount, or we can vote not to grant any abatements. Then, it would be up to the company or developer to decide if they can move forward without the incentives,” Commission Chairman Greg White added.

Dist. 3 Commissioner Lynne Holmes asked if a moratorium could be granted if Oakey Ridge was an incorporated township.

“The planning and zoning authority for municipalities (towns and cities) is vastly different than the county. I can’t say for sure that a town would necessarily have it, but I can say for sure the county does not. To be able to utilize public services, that’s not asking for something in the legal sense. If they were asking for upgrades to those services specifically to benefit this industry, that’s where it changes. It is no different than if it was just a private citizen moving in and purchasing this property,” Arrington said.

When asked through an in-meeting poll by the chairman, each commissioner indicated they would oppose granting tax abatements for the project.

A meeting will be held Monday, August 21, 6 p.m., at the Oakey Ridge Baptist Church. McClellan said Origis representatives would be on hand to discuss the proposed project. The commission unanimously said they would say “no” to any tax abatements requested by Origis.

To view a story on other items discussed by the commission at this meeting, visit https://www.andalusiastarnews.com/2023/08/16/lbw-president-provides-update-for-commission/.