In 2020, a determined group of Black residents in Archer, Florida, joined forces to stop the construction of a solar farm plant in their residential neighborhood, which they believed would do more harm than good. But, in 2021, the activists experienced a setback in their plans to block it.
Michelle Rutledge, a community member and activist who lives across from the proposed site, was astonished to learn that the Alachua County commissioners were considering authorizing a 650-acre utility-scale solar power plant on the agricultural land right outside the historically Black town. Rutledge rallied the community members and managed to win a victory by ultimately persuading the Alachua County commissioners to vote against the project.
According to Inside Climate News, the 74.9-megawatt photovoltaic solar facility is called the Archer Solar Project, a collaboration between power companies First Solar and Duke Energy. It would span the 650-acre vacant farmland plot near the Saint Peter neighborhood.
“The first thing I thought of was this is a residential neighborhood. There’s a community here, you know,” said Rutledge in response to the notice.
“This is not a facility that’s compatible with the residential community,” she added.
However, the community’s victory was short-lived: The Florida state legislature approved the “solar facility” process with the intent to encourage renewable solar electrical generation throughout the state. Recently, legislation was also passed this summer to prevent municipal governments from blocking any new energy infrastructure.
According to news outlets, Gerrie Crawford, who also lives across from the proposed power plant site, has emphasized that her neighbors and family members are closely tied to the rich African American ancestry in Alachua County. More specifically, she had spoken on behalf of the descendants of those who were driven out of Rosewood in Levy County, in 1923, during the Rosewood Massacre, when several hundred whites burned the town to the ground and killed several Black residents.
” Our families have experienced historical events such as the Rosewood Massacre,” she said. “Our families have ties to those types of experiences since the Civil War, Jim Crow, and having to escape.”
She explained that many families, including hers, have worked and purchased land there since the 1800s.
“It’s a great idea. But it’s in the wrong location,” continued Crawford, who held several meetings with Rutledge, other concerned residents, and the county commissioner about the impact of the solar plant on the community.
The newly passed legislation delivers a blow to the environmental justice movement in the country’s third most populated state, which is a concerning issue for many residents.
“We asked the county government to consider cumulative factors such as compatibility, community impact, cultural significance, systemic racism in land use, zoning, and urban planning, and environmental racism while making a decision,” she said.
“We support renewable energy. But we feel it has to be a just transition to break the cycle of past injustices in the name of progress,” added Crawford.