Silicon Ranch plans to appeal ruling in 100 MW solar property damage case

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A Georgia jury has awarded Shaun and Amie Harris $135.5 million in damages to their property in Stewart County, Georgia, reportedly created from silt and sediment erosion from a 100 MW utility-scale solar project constructed by developer Silicon Ranch, engineering contractor Infrastructure and Energy Alternatives (IEA) and an IEA affiliate.

U.S. District Court Judge Clay D. Land issued a May 5 order ruling that Nashville-based Silicon Ranch and IEA are liable for damages.

According to the lawsuit, Silicon Ranch has developed more than 160 solar facilities across the country, many of which were built by IEA. At Lumpkin Solar, IEA cleared and mass-graded about 1,000 acres of timberland, farmland and land near the Harris property, which had previously been used for recreational hunting and fishing. The solar developers had not taken adequate measures for erosion and sediment control, according to press release from the plaintiffs’ counsel James E. Butler, Jr., of Butler Prather LLP.

The companies “created, operated and maintained a nuisance … that caused sedimentation to pollute plaintiffs’ wetlands, streams and lake. The court further finds that this nuisance has continued for approximately two years unabated,” Judge Land said in the court order.

In a statement to pv magazine USA, a Silicon Ranch spokeswoman said, “as the long-term owner of this facility, Silicon Ranch remains committed to the continued success of Stewart County and the surrounding region. While we sincerely regret the unintentional damage to our neighbor’s property, Silicon Ranch does not believe the verdict in this trial is supported by the facts in this case.We plan to appeal.”

Silicon Ranch hired IEA to design and construct the Lumpkin solar facility through its subsidiary, IEA Constructors. IEA’s scope of work included the installation of solar modules and the full balance of system EPC construction, including all civil, mechanical and electrical work.

“We relied on our contractor to carry out this scope of work in compliance with applicable law and in keeping with industry best management practices, as specified by the appropriate regulatory bodies in the state of Georgia,” Silicon Ranch said.

Lumpkin Solar is a 100 MW utility solar project located on 850 acres in Stewart County, Georgia. The facility entered commercial operation in December 2021 in partnership with electric cooperative Walton Electric Membership Corporation and IEA. Meta was the offtake counterparty for the solar project.

H&L Farms LLC, on behalf of Shaun and Amie Harris, filed a lawsuit against Silicon Ranch and IEA on August 6, 2021, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

The jury panel returned a verdict of $10.5 million in damages. It found that Silicon Ranch, IEA and an IEA subsidiary, IEA Constructors, LLC, acted with specific intent to harm. The jury administered $25 million in punitive damages to Silicon Ranch, and $50 million in punitive damages to IEA and its affiliated company, respectively.

According to court filings, H&L Farms purchased a 1,630 acre property from Kawikee Refuge, LLC on March 16, 2021. The Harris’ home is adjacent to the 100 MW solar site.

Cozen O’Connor represented Silicon Ranch in the lawsuit, while Drew Eckl & Farnham represented IEA.

Following publication, Infrastructure & Energy Alternatives responded with comment on the Lumpkin Solar lawsuit. “These are important legal issues that we will address with the court at the proper time, and we look forward to the opportunity to do so,” an IEA spokeswoman told pv magazine USA.  

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