One of the most viral stories on the internet right now takes aim at the small, isolated town of Woodland, North Carolina, population 766.
Woodland recently held a Town Council meeting to decide whether or not to approve a proposal to build a new solar farm in town. During the open comment portion of the meeting, a handful of Woodland residents raised concerns about the proposal, some of which were rather strange.
Here’s an excerpt from the original source of the story, the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald:
During the public comment period preceding the rezoning vote, citizens expressed distrust and fear of the solar panels. Jean Barnes said she represented many citizens who rejected any more solar farms coming to the Woodland area and presented a petition to the council. Barnes asked that any future solar farm requests be placed on a referendum so the citizens can make the decision.
Mary Hobbs has been living in Woodland for 50 years and said she has watched it slowly becoming a ghost town with no job opportunities for young people. She said her home is surrounded by solar farms and is no longer worth its value because of those facilities. She added that the only people profiting are the landowners who sell their land, the solar companies, and the electric companies.
The next speakers were Bobby and Jane Mann. Jane Mann said she is a local native and is concerned about the natural vegetation that makes the community beautiful. She is a retired Northampton science teacher and is concerned that photosynthesis, which depends upon sunlight, would not happen and would keep the vegetation from growing. She said she has observed areas near solar panels where vegetation is brown and dead because it did not receive enough sunlight.
She also questioned the high number of cancer deaths in the area, saying no one could tell her that solar panels didn’t cause cancer. “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 said. “Until we can find if anything is going to damage this community, we shouldn’t sign any paper.”
Bobby Mann said he watched communities dry up when I-95 came along and warned that would happen to Woodland because of the solar farms. “You’re killing your town,” he said. “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.
The Manns’ comments were just too outlandish to stay buried in the Roanoke-Chowan, despite the fact that they had no real bearing on the decision to reject the solar farm proposal.
The story was quickly picked up by The Independent, who ran it with the following headline: US town rejects solar panels amid fears they ‘suck up all the energy from the sun’.
Within hours, dozens of other media outlets had recycled the story as well. Here’s a sampling of the headlines:
- North Carolina Town Rejects Solar Farm Over Fears It Would ‘Suck Up All The Energy From The Sun’ — International Business Times
- NC town rejects solar panels for sucking ‘up all the energy from the sun’ — Fox8
- US town fears solar farms would ‘suck up all the energy from the sun’ — RT
- Solar Farm Rejected Over Fears It Could Drain The Sun, Cause Cancer — IFL Science
I get it: let’s all point and laugh at the ignorant small-town folk who think solar panels are draining the sun of its energy and giving us cancer. Let’s point out how foolish they look to feel better about our own ignorance.
In reality, however, this story is an example of bad journalism more than anything else.
First off, there’s the focus on the comments made by Jane and Bobby Mann. It is extremely misleading to frame the story as if the Manns’ bizarre concerns were the main reason why the Woodland Town Council rejected the solar farm proposal, especially when you consider the fact that members of the council actually refuted the Manns’ claims during the meeting.
Most outlets also chose to ignore the more reasonable concerns raised by other Woodland residents, like Jean Barnes and Mary Hobbes.
But if the town council’s decision wasn’t about sun-sucking, cancer-causing solar panels, what were the real motivations for voting against the proposal? The answer lies in another section of the Roanoke-Chowan article:
The town would not benefit, from a tax base standpoint, from the solar farms because they are not located within the town limits, but only in the extraterritorial sections.
The only funding the town would get is approximately $7,000 per year for specialized training for the Woodland Fire Department in the event of an electrical malfunction at the solar plant.
Of course, discussing the financial details of the decision takes away from the whole, ‘ignorant people rejecting clean energy for crazy reasons’ narrative — which is probably why everyone who covered the story chose to leave that part out.