It didn’t take long after our county officials finally shooed away the industrial wind companies for a second siege of energy company carpetbaggers to sweep through Montgomery County like Sherman’s March to the Sea. This second siege of companies are industrial solar bringing with them even more tempting financial enticements for rural landowners, much more money per acre with no active farming left. A whole flock of scalawags have signed on with lease options.
A key difference between wind and solar farms is solar totally changes land usage. With wind projects farming continues around the turbines relatively undisturbed. With solar, in most cases, farming ceases and the land use becomes truly industrialized.
Solar companies assure the landowners that at the end of their lease the land can be returned to its original state. Can it be? Most likely. Will it be? Highly unlikely. Once property changes to industrial use it invariably stays that way. Once industrialization starts, more tends to follow. Non-farming rural residents tend to leave. Every land parcel converted to solar takes work away from farmers who rent. Agricultural related businesses decline.
There’s an old expression, “Don’t spoil the broth.” That referred to too many cooks being in the kitchen. It also suggests the broth was in a perfect state as it was. Broth is the basis of any good soup. If the broth is wrong, nothing else will be right.
Our rural areas are now like a fragrant broth with a comfortable harmonious balance of farms and non-farm residents who trade the conveniences of town life for peaceful, natural surroundings with more land to call their own than town life can afford.
The painful reality is these proposed energy projects shine a harsh light on unrealized divides between some members of the rural community. We thought we knew our neighbors, but it turns out we did not. Non-farming residents and some farmers themselves thought all their neighbors valued predominantly natural surroundings as much as they do. Turns out many do not. Farmers who do elect to sign leases are met with hostility from neighbors they never imagined, feel judged and resent being told what they can and cannot do with their land. This dynamic has been playing out in states across the country where neighbors in generational farming communities are no longer speaking to each other, sometimes not even at church. Almost instantly, the recipe for a delicious broth is spoiled. Too much salt comes to mind and top that off a big splash of vinegar.
Landowners who have property on the fringes of developments know they are in line for this. For landowners in the middle of a broad farming community to make a choice for wind or solar feels like an unexpected assault to their neighbors who had no idea any of this was transpiring.
At the same time these energy companies are sponsoring the social destruction of rural communities they are often mounting public relations campaigns designed to create a feeling they are already part of a heritage community. One wind company put up a light display at Waynetown’s Christmas wonderland as if they’d been part of the community for decades, when in fact their project had not even been approved.
Our county paid a large sum of taxpayer money for an outside entity to create a comprehensive plan for us employing opinion gathering methods. The results of that plan make it clear in no uncertain terms that the people of this county want to maintain an agricultural identity. As it turns out the commission of people assigned to review this plan have no power whatsoever to enforce it. They are only an advisory group to the commissioners.
Time marches on and advancements in industry and technology eventually are woven into a culture.
For some counties in Indiana, such as Benton, wind energy seems a better fit. It has half the density of population of our county so the presence of those monster turbines impinges less on the quality of life for those residents. Benton County had virtually no industry. Reports floated they were having trouble paying their bills. Now wind power is their industry. Communities are willing to sacrifice quality of life out of economic need.
Montgomery County does not have that need. If the county itself does not have that need, then it follows to next examine the landowners signing the lease options for these solar farms. Most of the farmland owners signing on are not poor. They are already large property owners. None of these people are on welfare, living in shabby houses and trying to drive broken down cars. They sign up because they just want more. Is it worth it for the people who just want more to get that when the end result unquestionably will be the breakdown of the rural heritage community and the inevitable transition to an industrialized landscape?
I would challenge those who want to make a transition in that direction to consider the broth they are spoiling.
Martha E. Flaningam
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