For 60 years, Carl Porter has enjoyed sitting and gazing into the wooded area surrounding the property of his Stearns Road home. What he described as a serene park setting with the occasional grazing deer, has now been disrupted with banks of 13-foot high solar panels installed just a few feet away from the property line he shares with the Oakdale Golf and Country Club.
While Porter and his nephew, Craig Porter, say they were never advised of the OGCC project’s impact, the country club and contracted installer, 1st Light Energy of Manteca, state they’ve been trying to work with Porter for a resolution and have now “given up” and have the law on their side.
The U.S. solar industry has seen record-breaking growth over the last few years. While residential installations played a significant role, plots of solar fields have taken off as businesses, schools, and other organizations look to cut energy costs.
According to Porter, the family never knew of the installation project until construction started next to their 2.5 acre lot in January.
When Porter initially inquired, he was told the panels would only stand 3-4 feet high.
“We weren’t happy about it,” Craig Porter said, “but we figured we wouldn’t have to see it.”
When Porter went to the county office to look at 1st Light Energy’s plans for the completed project, he was told the plans were continually being changed and there was no known plan for the end result.
Now, as construction is almost finished, the 3-4 foot originally described panels, now stand at 13 feet high and are spread on two sides of Porter’s property.
Porter has learned that when the project is completed, there will be 1,080 solar panels on six steel-framed banks that are nearly 500 feet long standing 13 feet high. Two rows of panels are along one property line and four rows are feet away from another property line.
“He (Carl) basically had a park, deer and a view; there was no fencing along the property,” Craig Porter said. “Now he has a solar farm to look at.”
OGCC General Manager Rick Schultz said the country club entered into a contract with 1st Light Energy which did the permitting and construction planning. All the proper permits were acquired and inspections were done. The area selected was the only area the OGCC felt the panels, that will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs over their life span, could be installed
Schultz also said the area where the panels were installed wasn’t as serene as described by Porter.
“The country club feels bad, but it was a dump pile back there,” Shultz said of the area where club maintenance personnel would dump clippings, loose concrete, and other yard waste. “The country club put up bushes and trees to hide the view of the junk that was in his yard such as an abandoned boat on the ground right there.”
Schultz said the OGCC has tried to be a “good neighbor” in the process with offers of a land swap as well as landscaping or a decorative fence to hide the panels. Schultz added that compensation has even been offered for their troubles, but the Porters seem to be fighting them “tooth and nail.”
1st Light has also offered to install a solar system for Porter.
“It was more of a sales pitch,” Carl Porter said of the solar offer. “Nothing different than if I had inquired about my own system.”
Porter also said there was no offer of any cash compensation given to him.
The Porters have thought about a legal fight but feel defeated and don’t want to “throw money at a lost cause” because of the Solar Act of 1978, which was created to aid and assist a new, fledgling solar industry.
Historically, so-called NIMBY (not in my backyard) fights have been waged to keep large-scale projects, such as landfills or major power lines, out of neighborhoods. But when these battles were spreading to things like wind farms and residential solar arrays, which have often already been installed, the Solar Act of 1978 was developed to bar restrictions on the installation of solar-energy systems. The Act was amended again in September 2004 by extending its prohibition on restrictions of interference from public entities.
“Besides, do you know how many local attorneys belong to that country club,” Porter said about his experiences with lawyer consultations. “Many said they couldn’t take the case because it was a conflict of interest.”
Both Porters said they had other concerns of the project since it also backed up to US Army Corps of Engineers property and the panels could interfere with wildlife access to a river.
Craig Porter also wondered if their property would be subject to tree height or any land construction if it appeared to block the panels.
“Is the land basically going to become dormant?” Craig Porter asked.
Schultz said at this point he feels the Porters are dragging the OGCC through the mud with a number of news stories and negative publicity directed to the OGCC.
“It’s not coming down,” Schultz said. “It’s protected, permitted, inspected – all done by legal means – and it’s a done deal.”