Cane Creek Solar, LLC speaks out about Clarke County project

Company claims to want to be a “Good Neighbor” to Barnett community
Cane Creek Solar, LLC speaks out about Clarke Cty project
Published: Jan. 27, 2023 at 7:10 PM CST
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MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - Thursday night when News 11 reported about the Cane Creek Solar project, which is happening in the Barnett community just south of Pachuta, we had not yet heard from the parent company of cane creek solar, pine gate renewables. Early Friday morning, a representative from their company reached out and News 11 was able to speak with Sean Anderson, the VP of Project Development.

Cane Creek Solar LLC was formed in 2018 by a company called RES Americas. It wasn’t until 2020 that Pine Gate Renewables took ownership and began steps to continue development of the solar panel farm. I asked Sean if the land was already procured at that point.

“So how these solar projects typically work will be developers work with landowners at the onset largely depend on, depending on a number of characteristics, but typically its proximity to large existing transmission infrastructure and suitable tracts of land, typically hundreds of acres in size, for this type of transmission scale project. So, you know we stepped into the development of the project, continued the environmental due diligence, and all of the regulatory approvals, including the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity that the Public Service Commission ultimately reviews and approves.” Said Anderson

In May of 2020 Cane Creek Solar petitioned the Mississippi Public Service Commission (MPSC) for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity permit. As required by the MPSC, they did contact those considered to be the “Interested Persons” in this matter. Who are the “Interested Persons”? Large scale utility companies such as Southern Pine Electric or Mississippi Power.

Not the residence of the area that are directly impacted by the instalation of the solar farm.

In full transparency, the MPSC did their due diligence by submitting Public Notices to Clarke County Tribune and the Clarion Ledger in May of 2020. However, this was at the height of the Covid 19 outbreak in our state.

It was in August of 2020 Commissioner Dane Maxwell, with the MPSC, approved the permit for Cane Creek Solar to move forward. Fast forward to July of 2021 and the Clarke County Board of Supervisors approve the installation of the solar panel farm. According to Anderson this timeline from approval to commencement is standard.

When I spoke with the residents of the community, they stated how, at their November meeting, Anderson repeatedly emphasized on how their company wanted to be a “good neighbor”; it was part of their company philosophy. I asked Anderson about this and why there had been no previous conversations with the residence prior to the land being cleared.

Anderson replied “Yeah no, I understand and that is something I accentuated when we met with the community in November. I do want to underscore that the communication with landowners are ongoing and you know, want to reinforce, you know, when the community had concerns in in 2022 it’s my understanding largely that was tied to the ongoing timber clearing that was that was happening in the latter half of 2022.”

I asked Anderson if he saw the initial letter to the board and he stated that to his understanding the timber clearing is ultimately what inspired the broader community discussion that pine gate renewables had in early November with the residents.

Now according to Anderson, Pine Gate Renewables has the full intention to be the long-term owner and operator of Cane Creek Solar. This means in the event of something such as a tornado, high wind event, or other damaging event, Pine Gate Renewables does have a have an operations and maintenance plan as well as an emergency plan in place

“In the case of an emergency event Pine Gate Renewables would ultimately be responsible for the cleanup, and there would be close consultation with the state agencies that of course would be interested in ensuring it’s done swiftly as well.” Said Anderson

What happens when the lifespan of the project is complete, which according to Anderson could last anywhere from 20 to upwards of 40 years, what happens to the solar farm then?

Anderson told News 11 “There is a decommissioning obligation tied to the approval and ultimately path forward with the project with the county meaning Cane Creek Solar and Pine Gate Renewables is directly responsible for removing the system after the project’s useful life.”

But what about the land? What about the forest. Would it be replanted?

“Ultimately it is not. It is not our land, so we are the tenant of this footprint, meaning the landowner will ultimately have the right to return the footprint to an agricultural use or timber use.” Said Anderson

I also asked Anderson if, in his opinion, Cane Creek Solar or Pine Gate Renewables did everything that they needed to do to inform the residents around this area that this was going to be put in place even though the residents were not aware of the farm coming in until after timber had been cleared and large machinery started coming in.

Anderson stated “yeah no, I can appreciate the sentiment. Ultimately the timber clearing was under the landowner’s volition. What I could have been more deliberate about is working with our landowner to ensure that there was no major disruption in the traffic flow related to that clearing, but ultimately that that communication will continue to improve looking ahead.”

I asked Anderson if he could tell me where the solar panels for this project were coming from. He stated they have several partnerships with vendors both domestically and internationally, but he would need to double check the specifics of Cane Creek with their Engineering Procurement Department.

I also asked about their commitment to ensuring that the employment opportunities will go to local businesses. Anderson advised that their sister company Blue Ridge Power will be tasked to support the construction of the of the project as well as organizing the subcontractors and local labor too.