That’s science, baby!

Residents of a North Carolina town reject solar power plan because they think it will use up all the sunlight and kill the plants.

A town meeting in Woodland, North Carolina heard public comments on a proposed solar farm in which citizens, including a retired science teacher called Jane Mann, spoke out against the proposal.

Ms Mann opposes the solar expansion because she believes it would lower her property values. She also said that plants near solar farms do not thrive because there wasn’t enough sunshine left over for them to photosynthesize. She also evinced a belief that solar panels cause cancer. Her husband added that solar panels “suck up all the energy from the sun.”

That makes sense. There is only a finite amount of sunlight and if solar panels take some of it, less will be left for other purposes. And she is not merely proposing a theory. She has data because she has observed plants that are brown and dead near solar panels. She did not explain why it could not be the other way around, that the greedy plants will hog all the sunlight and leave nothing for the panels. No doubt she has applied for a grant to conduct further research.

Anyway, these solid science-based arguments persuaded the town council to place a moratorium on all solar farms. You can’t be too careful, after all. Why, if you put in enough solar farms, there may be no daylight at all.


  1. Jean says

    You might want to check Pharyngula and see PZ’s take on it which seems a bit more objective than the initial response everyone gets (including me).

  2. busterggi says

    “Why, if you put in enough solar farms, there may be no daylight at all.”

    Damned straight! Why there used to be 24/7 sunlight until windows were invented and started trapping sunlight inside buildings -- now we average around 12 hours a day of darkness.

  3. atheistblog says

    If you have to disparage these people, How would you describe those Smithsonian researcher who take cash from oil companies and submit falsified data to science journals ?
    It’s all about one thing, vested interest in money.

  4. fentex says

    I think PZM may be right by looking at the broader context which suggest the getleman meant that turning the town into a passive generator of energy sucks the energy from people sunlight might otherwise have stirred.

    Living in a nice pleasant sun drenched place isn’t as much fun if there’s nothing to do, and the enervating energy you might otherwise expend through your day could leak away if there’s no future for you there.

  5. says

    Jean @3
    Yes exactly. Professor Myers has pointed out that there are some valid concerns and questions and some potential consequences that cannot be overlooked.

    For example he points out that it will indeed harm or kill the plants and animals that are underneath the panels and there are toxins and carcinogens that go into the manufacturing process. He mentions a problem with young people not wanting to stick around in the town which a solar farm isn’t going to help one bit. There are economic downsides as well.

    These seem like fair points he’s brought up.

  6. Holms says

    Mano, that source appears to be a bit dishonest in representing the concerns of the town residents. Here is a local newspaper article that is far less glib and gives a less distorted account of their reasoning. A lot of good reasons were omitted from your source, though I agree that the worst, woo-ridden reasons did indeed come from a former science teacher.

  7. Johnny Vector says

    The problem with PZ’s “there are consequences” take is that we made that choice a century ago. We rely on power, and producing power has negative consequences. The trick is to minimize those consequences. Removing an entire mountaintop (to get at the coal below it) kills a lot more plants than putting up a solar farm. As does the particulate pollution from coal plants. Not to mention flooding half of Florida from global warming. We need to get serious about Wind, Water, and Solar power, and the negative consequences need to be weighed against the other options. Sure, we should start by covering all usable roof space before we start using arable farmland, but roof space alone won’t be enough.

  8. John Morales says

    PZ talks about second-order local externalities, and is beyond charitable in his interpretation of the residents’ claim.


    Anyone who wants numbers should read the last few years’ archives of Do the Math.

  9. John Morales says

    Johnny Vector,

    We need to get serious about Wind, Water, and Solar power

    Also tidal and nuclear.

    (Yeah, both are expensive, and the latter is particularly problematic because of political/military implications)

  10. Johnny Vector says

    John Morales,

    Also tidal and nuclear

    Feh and yes. Tidal is never going to be more than a fraction of a percent of the total. I’m not opposed to it, but it’s the poor stepchild in renewable energy.

    Nuclear, yes. We ought to get cracking on it (next-gen reactors) now, so that in 10 or 20 years it will be ready for wide deployment. It’s a longer-term part of the solution. Building a new round of current reactors is not going to happen, and the new ones are not ready yet. Due to failure to spend any significant cash on development, of course, but still a ways away. (Unless someone can convince me otherwise.)

  11. John Morales says

    Johnny Vector, indeed. But it’s still a couple of terawatts’ worth.

    A terawatt here, a terawatt there… it adds up to a fair amount of carbon offset, no?

    (FWIW, Do the Math also agrees)

  12. StevoR says

    @ John Morales : I’d add thorium reactors as very well explained and discussed here :

    and Helium -3 and Hydrogen* if they can be developed quickly -- & efforts should be made to develop them more quickly to your alternative energy sources list there too. Guess you could say you’re including them with “nuclear” but not clear on that.

    * Hydrogen (fusion) power seems to have been “twenty years or so away” since the 1960’s-70’s or so. Just like Moon colonies and Mars landings. If only we’d put more -money and effort and prioritised higher -- into doing those things instead of some others in past decades. What could’ve been. Sigh.

  13. John Morales says

    Stevor @15, yeah, by nuclear I include include thorium reactors, among others, but I actually refer to fission, not fusion*.

    * Deuterium/tritium reactions generate most of their energy as neutrons, which is problematic because those tend to transmute elements (such as those in containment vessels) into radioactive isotopes, and aneutronic reactions are at least a couple of orders of magnitude more energetic and so not in the current horizon — and if those can be achieved, it can be done with protons and boron-11 or lithium-7, which are much less rare.

  14. John Morales says


    Um, I mixed nomenclature — obviously, protons are hydrogen-1, and deuterium and tritium are hydrogen-2 and hydrogen-3 respectively.

  15. StevoR says

    @ ^ John Morales : Fair enough, just wasn’t sure exactly which forms you meant with the ‘nuclear’ there.

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