Farmers continue to raise concerns over incoming solar panels in Hill County

Posted at 8:49 PM, Jan 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-13 00:28:25-05

PENELOPE, Texas — Johnny Hanzlicek and his wife live on a family farm in Penelope.

"Both of my grandparents were farmers, my dad was a farmer, I had several uncles," he told 25 News. "Now they're all passed away, but I grew up with a farmer's background as you can see."

Continuing the family's legacy, the Hanzliceks still grow cotton, corn and wheat.

"Hill County has been a major farming community for decades and decades," he said.

Hanzlicek said he's now watching that community slowly fade as more farming disappears only to be replaced with acres and acres of solar panels.

Ash Creek Solar recently started building about two miles from Hanzlicek's farm and now they're looking to move even closer.

"It's really going to waste to see our precious farmland go to solar panels," he said of the project. "The biggest issue is with the lead and all the other toxins in it, just the rainwater going off it in our soil and it can become toxic over time."

According to a paper by Germany's Stuttgart Institute, "pollutants such as lead or carcinogenic cadmium can be almost completely washed out over several month by rainwater."

They went on to say those chemicals can then "leach into water and soil" around it.

A statement from the company behind the Ash Creek project, Primergy, argues solar panels “do not leach chemicals or contaminate groundwater.”

The company denied an interview, but in their statement said they are "committed to developing projects that protect the environment and do not pose additional environmental risks while providing affordable, carbon-free, clean, renewable energy."

With the panels potentially now coming within two-tenths of a mile of his property, Hanzlicek said he's really worried.

"That can affect my crops if I'm surrounded by all these panels," he said.

The loss of farmland could mean the loss of local crops many rely on.

"If all these projects go, we could lose up to 20,000 acres of farmland in Hill County alone," Hanzlicek said. "If they put the solar panels in, there's no way they can rebuild those terraces over time. They need to be rebuilt every three to four years."

Hanzlicek isn't alone in his concerns, more than 200 Penelope residents signed a petition to block more solar panels from coming in.

While the damage might already be done, farmers say the fight is far from over.