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Town Rejects Solar Farm Amid Fears it Would 'Suck Up All the Energy From the Sun'

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The town of Woodland, North Carolina rejected a proposal last week to rezone an area of land just outside of the town for a solar farm. The proposed site is an ideal location for a solar farm, according to the solar company behind the proposal—Strata—and the town's planning board, because of its close proximity to an electrical substation where the panels can be easily hooked up to the electrical grid.

Three solar farms have already been approved in the area, but the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald reported "citizens expressed distrust and fear of the solar panels" in a public meeting before the vote.

One of the more unusual claims came from Jane Mann, a retired science teacher, who is concerned that photosynthesis "would not happen" and the panels "would keep the plants from growing." She said she has "observed areas near solar panels where the plants are brown and dead because they did not get enough sunlight."

Mann also believes that the solar panels in the community are responsible for the high number of cancer deaths in the area. “I want to know what’s going to happen,” she said. “I want information. Enough is enough. I don’t see the profit for the town."

“People come with hidden agendas,” she added. “Until we can find if anything is going to damage this community, we shouldn’t sign any paper.”

At least two other residents, Bobby Mann and Mary Hobbs, believe that the solar panels are responsible for turning the community into a "ghost town with no job opportunities for young people." Hobbs said the panels that surround her house have brought down the value of her home.

“You’re killing your town,” Bobby Mann told those gathered at the meeting. “All the young people are going to move out.” He said the solar farms would "suck up all the energy from the sun and businesses would not come to Woodland."

Several representatives from Strata were also present at the meeting to talk about the proposal. “There are no negative impacts,” one of the representatives, Beth Trahos, said. “A solar farm is a wonderful use for a property like this.”

Trahos assured residents solar panels "are proven to be safe and exist next to homes" and "there are no negative impacts on property values statewide."

Another representative, Brent Niemann, even explained that “the panels don’t draw additional sunlight.” They only capture the sunlight that hits them directly.

Despite the company representatives' assurances, the town could not be swayed. The city not only voted against rezoning the land, but later voted for a moratorium on future solar farms.

The vote flies in the face of recent nationwide polling, which shows very strong support for renewables, even among conservatives.

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Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

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"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.