Don't Blame Rural America for Being Terrified of Renewable Energy. Blame the GOP.


Move over, pestilence, war, famine and death. There's a terrifying new Horseman of the Apocalypse on the scene: solar farms.

The town of Woodland, North Carolina, estimated population 750, sits a little over 100 miles from state capital Raleigh. Recently, the town council rejected a proposal to rezone land so it could accommodate the construction of a solar farm. The town also voted for a complete ban on solar farms. 

The local report was filled with colorful quotes from townspeople who reportedly claimed solar farms would suck up the sun's energy, kill plants and possibly lead to cancer deaths. Naturally, it went viral — and one retired science teacher is now an unwitting spokeswoman for the uninformed backlash to (much-needed) action on climate change.


"Distrust and fear": The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald quoted several townspeople who spoke out against solar farms. Many of their complaints reflected a "distrust and fear" of the technology, as the local paper described. Other concerns were centered on the local economy and how solar farms would impact property values.

One woman, Jane Mann, a retired science teacher, expressed concern that solar panels would hog so much sunlight that photosynthesis — which requires sunlight in order to work — wouldn't occur and the plants around the panels wouldn't grow. The Herald also reported that Mann pointed to the cancer rates in Woodland and claimed "no one could tell her that solar panels didn't cause cancer."

"People come with hidden agendas," Mann reportedly said. "Until we can find if anything is going to damage this community, we shouldn't sign any paper."

Next up was Bobby Mann, who expressed concern that the solar farms would be bad for local businesses. "You're killing your town," he said, according to the News-Herald. "All the young people are going to move out."

The News-Herald also reported that Bobby Mann said "the solar farms would suck up all the energy from the sun and businesses would not come to Woodland."

Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

Are any of these worries valid? Not a single one. Solar panels cannot draw excess power from the sun. They rely solely on light that's directly hitting the panels. (Here is an explanation for how solar panels work.)

It's tempting to mock Woodland residents for their skepticism of solar farms, and to place blame on rural populations for the country's resistance to renewable energy and environmental technology. But don't blame Woodland. Don't blame the Manns. 

Instead, consider political figures like Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, who drum up publicity for their 2016 presidential campaigns by trumpeting anti-science rhetoric, convincing voters that climate science is a myth and falsely linking alternative energy to a dearth in jobs

Blame media outlets like Fox News, whose continued denial of climate change — despite all scientific evidence to the contrary — helps encourage lies about planet-saving progress.

As for the question of whether solar panels cause cancer, there's little evidence to support that conclusion. If they're worried about health risks, however, Woodland residents might look instead at the millions of pounds of toxic chemicals North Carolina's government allows companies to dump in waterways — chemicals the residents are forced to drink. 

h/t The Independent