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Solar Projects Welcomed and Opposed in Two NE Texas Counties


Solar farm developers are looking at Northeast Texas for three new projects in the year ahead. And they’re getting mixed reactions. 

European solar project developers want to build two large-scale solar farms in Fannin County and another in Van Zandt County. A 900-acre facility near Bonham would have a sister site in neighboring Gober and each could bring hundreds of construction jobs and about two dozen permanent jobs to Fannin County.

An almost identical scale project is also on tap for Van Zandt County. But unlike the welcome Fannin County is rolling out for solar development, some residents of Van Zandt County are none too happy with the prospect of 400,000 solar panels in Canton.

Earlier this week, members and supporters of a concerned citizens group called Save Van Zandt County packed the Whitton Community Center in Canton as part of the group’s efforts to stop the project from happening.

According to its website, Save Van Zandt County members worry about the effects of clear-cutting enough land to install the solar panels on. They also say they’re worried about toxic leakage from damaged solar panels, should rain get into a broken panel and wash chemicals into the groundwater.

Ken Starcher, an instructor of engineering and technology at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas, near Palo Duro, and one-time assistant director of the now-shuttered Alternative Energy Institute, says that simply will not happen. He says the rising tide of concerns that damaged solar panels would bleed toxins into the ground has no basis in fact.

"Any of those 'exotic' chemicals that are used to 'dope' the crystal, that is to give it the properties of making electricity, will stay within that wafer – even if it’s smashed with a rock, a hailstone, a beer bottle. Rain could enter, it could damage connections, but it’s not going to degrade that silicone cell."

While the making of solar cells does involve toxic and caustic chemicals, such as gallium and arsenic, Starcher says the toxicity issues associated with solar cells are entirely limited to the manufacturing process. But once the panels are glazed, he says the wafer turns it into “an inert piece of glass.”

Work on the Fannin County projects are expected to begin in 2019. The Canton project could begin then too.

Scott Morgan has been an award-winning journalist since 2001. His work has appeared in several newspapers and magazines as well as online. He has also been an editor, freelancer, speaker, writing teacher, author, and podcaster.