Van Zandt County Community Group Fights Future ‘Solar Farm'

Solar farm of 400,000 panels would cover 750 acres, project leaders say

There is a bit of a solar energy showdown shaping up in Van Zandt County as a group of nearly 1,000 residents fight a proposed solar farm.

Houston-based Pattern Development touts the renewable energy and jobs the project would create, but the Save Van Zandt County initiative insists the project is not suitable for their community.

David Dunagan said he first found out about the project when talking to the owner of the land adjacent to his property.

“The gentleman that owns the land next to me, who leased out to them, kind of casually over the fence one day said ‘Hey. You’re never going to have to worry about someone building a house next to you. I leased my land out to a company who is going to put a few solar panels up,’” Dunagan said.

He started talking to elected officials and looking at government filings and records to learn the scope of the project and was shocked.

According to Pattern Development the project will be approximately 750 acres and approximately 400,000 solar panels.

Those numbers make Dunagan uneasy, but his concerns start with the actual construction.

“It’s going to be difficult for us just to live on this property with that going on around us,” he said. “There is the noise of the ‘ca-chunking’ and ‘ca-chunking’ of them driving these pylons.”

The Save Van Zandt group are fearful of the future – environmentally and economically.

“It scares us to death,” Dunagan said. “What it’s going to do to us environmentally, but then long term. What happens 10 years down the road, 15 years down the road.”

He fears his property value will plummet, but also has concerns about issues specific to his area.

“Less than two years ago, we had five tornadoes blow through here, and tornadoes are kind of common around here as is hail,” Dunagan said. “When the [panels] go up, if they get damaged, or a tornado starts ripping them out of the ground and we’re all targets for it.”

Pattern insists there are no environmental issues.

“Prior to project construction and operations of the facility, all personnel will receive Environmental Awareness Training to make them aware of any potential environmental issues that might arise during the construction and operation of the facility,” material released Pattern said. “Project construction will avoid streams and forested wetlands and therefore avoid impacts to aquatic species. In addition, the project will maintain the top soil of the existing pastures to the maximum extent.”

NBC 5 also asked Pattern representatives about community concerns surrounding weather issues in the county.

“Solar panels are secured to posts that are buried in the ground. The panels are designed to withstand the climate around where it is constructed,” representative Matt Dallas said. “Pattern Development will actively manage this project during operations.”

Read the full Frequently Asked Questions document from Pattern addressing community concerns here.

DV.load("https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5695658-Solar-in-Van-Zandt-County-FAQ-Pages-2.js", { responsive: true, container: "#DV-viewer-5695658-Solar-in-Van-Zandt-County-FAQ-Pages-2" }); Solar in Van Zandt County FAQ Pages (2) (PDF)
Solar in Van Zandt County FAQ Pages (2) (Text)

Pattern reminds that project will generate enough clean energy to power more than 27,000 homes, pump $22 million into area schools and create 250 construction jobs.

Members of the citizen action group are still not convinced.

“I’m scared that we are going to have to start over. I’m angry,” Dunagan said. “We are going to fight and fight and fight.”

Dunagan said there is now a scheduled meeting with state lawmakers to discuss possible legislation in their fight.

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