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Landowner Hank Schumacher speaks to the Tangipahoa Parish Council on July 26, 2021 ahead of a vote on solar panel farm development regulations. 

AMITE CITY – The Tangipahoa Parish Council has approved new rules for solar plant developments, capping off weeks of debate among farmers fearful about how renewable energy projects will impact agricultural land and property owners eager to cash in on a clean energy boom sweeping South Louisiana.

Regulations adopted Monday require 50 feet of vegetation around utility-scale solar plants — meaning solar panel farms big enough to contribute to the power grid — and say they have to follow the parish’s existing drainage standards, among other rules. The council voted unanimously to approve them.

“This achieves a happy medium on an issue where there were many interests involved,” said District 8 Councilman David Vial.

The vote ensures that solar panel farms planned in Tangipahoa, a parish with few zoning rules that has allowed largely-unhindered development in recent years, will not proceed completely free from regulation.

The parish council acted because state lawmakers are unlikely to draft regulations before solar companies move ahead with developments in Tangipahoa Parish — and elsewhere in the state.

Two companies, Florida-based NextEra Energy and Chicago’s Invenergy, are planning projects in Tangipahoa Parish that could break ground by 2023. The NextEra project is slated for a 1,200-acre plot near the St. Helena Parish line, off La. 10, while Invenergy is eyeing a spot east of Amite City along La. 445.

The planned developments have set off fears among neighbors of the two land parcels, voiced in public meetings and on social media, that solar panels will poison their water, lead to a surge in herbicide use and cause property values to plummet due to the visual effect of acres of gleaming black solar panels on the rolling agricultural land.

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Wayne Hughes, who lives near the Invenergy site off La. 445, told District 2 Councilman John Ingraffia that he worries about solar panels reducing the value of his property. Hughes feels let down because he believes the councilman didn’t oppose solar developments vocally enough on behalf of residents of his district, which includes the Invenergy site, he explained Monday.

“I’m disappointed in you, as our elected official,” Hughes told Ingraffia.

The councilman replied that he had first learned about plans to bring solar power to Tangipahoa Parish at the same time Hughes did — around three months ago.

As discussions over the solar projects have mounted in the past two months, sustainable energy experts have worked to assuage Tangipahoa residents’ numerous fears about solar energy in public meetings.

Residents need not worry that solar panels will poison water sources or hinder future agricultural prosperity of the land — another common fear — said Terry Chambers, an energy efficiency and sustainable energy expert at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, during a public meeting earlier in July.

While energy produced by the plants may be directed outside of the state, solar panel farms almost always reduce energy costs in nearby communities, Chambers told residents.

NextEra is "excited to bring home-grown solar energy to Louisiana," said Ian Rice, a project manager for the company's Louisiana division, during the meeting.


James Finn writes for The Advocate as a Report For America corps member. Email him at JFinn@theadvocate.com or follow him on Twitter @RJamesFinn.

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