Solar farm construction: Hot topic at county meeting

Published 2:45 pm Wednesday, December 26, 2018

By Ken GustafsonAMERICUS — The proposed construction of a solar farm in Andersonville was the hot topic at the Sumter County Board of Commissioners (BOC) monthly meeting on Dec. 18. This was Randy Howard’s last meeting as Board chairman.
The proposed solar farm would be on 415.73 acres of land located at 1400 Ga. Highway 49 North. Part of the proposed solar farm would also be on 190 acres located on Neil Hodges Road in Andersonville. Kruger Energy would be in charge of constructing and overseeing the solar farm.
Sumter County Code Enforcement Officer Michael Sudduth told the BOC that Kruger Energy did a presentation before the Sumter County Planning & Zoning Board at their meeting held Dec. 13. Sudduth also said that the board gave approval for conditional use to construct the solar farm at the proposed locations. Sudduth also said that the Planning & Zoning Board gave a special stipulation to Kruger Energy to install a 10-foot high hedge at the time construction of the solar farm begins. The 10-foot hedge would be along Highway 49.
The major concern for residents in the area where the proposed solar farm would be was how it would impact the property values of their homes.
Before the residents had a chance to speak, Tim Convoy, a representative of Kruger Energy, explained the benefits of having the solar farm. “A lot of times at these meetings, we talk about the potentially adverse impacts of these types of projects, but I want to reiterate the positive benefits of this project. Certainly, the biggest one is the economic development benefit,” Convoy said. He went on to say that the company is investing $80 million in the project. “We expect to have a local spending impact of up to $1.6 million in construction fees. There will also be expenditures on local restaurants, hotels, etc.” Convoy said.
Convoy said the meeting with the Planning and Zoning Board, he proposed that roughly 2,000 feet of hedges be placed on the east side of Highway 49 as a buffer. He went on to say that he proposed planting two to three-foot tall Japanese privet hedges roughly at the time construction begins. “They grow an average of two feet a year,” Convoy said. He said that the Planning & Zoning Board wanted Kruger Energy to put in 10-foot high hedges at the time of construction. “To do that would add approximately $342,000 to the project cost,” Convoy said. He asked the BOC to remove the requirement to place 10-foot high hedges at the time of construction of the proposed solar farm.
Residents of the area voiced their opinions, both for and against the solar farm.
Paul Hall addressed the BOC about the proposed solar farm by asking these questions: “What does a solar farm do to adjacent properties and their value? Does it take away the value of an adjacent property owner,” Hall asked rhetorically.
Hall went on to say that the BOC, along with everyone else in the chamber, should be aware of the tax base. “Creating jobs and broadening the tax base is what will make this county continue to grow,” Hall said. “We have to address the tax base and tax it appropriately.”
Hall made the comment that solar panels are getting to where they have a 30-year longevity. “That technology is going to continue to develop,” Hall said. “I think Sumter County is smart in being on the beginning of what I think is going to be a future in generating electricity.” Hall also mentioned that for rural areas where there is no manufacturing to create a tax base, a solar farm might be a life line for them.
Hall spoke in favor of the proposed solar farm. Hall is chairman of the Sumter County Payroll Development Authority.
However, Dustin Covington gave reasons why he is against it. “I’m not opposed to someone doing something with their own land to better themselves, but I do oppose it when it directly affects adjacent property owners,” Covington said. “Me and my family live directly across the road from the proposed solar farm on Highway 49. I ask that the Commissioners oppose this farm, or at least the size of it, because of the negative effects that it will have on the community, surrounding land owners and their property values.” Covington said he and his family recently invested $300,000 into making their farm a place for farm tourism and a wedding venue. “We wish to do this because it will keep local school systems and their surrounding communities from going to Cordele and other places in South Georgia. I feel that they need to know the community they grow up in, what it does and how it affects them and what good it does for their school systems.” Covington said that the proposed solar farm will directly affect his business negatively. He said that the solar farm will end up being an eyesore and will cause the land value to depreciate. He also said that most solar farms are leases only. “These companies can just disappear overnight. Then nothing is left but the huge clean up that is done by either the land owner or the county,” Covington said. “If they were truly making a long-term investment in the community, why would they not purchase these lands?”
The BOC decided to wait and make its decision regarding the solar farm in January.