Nearly a year after Alachua County denied a permit to Origis Energy, the company has partnered with the Archer residents that opposed its proposed solar farm.
At a Monday press conference, Miami-based Origis Energy and Archer residents announced an agreement to leave the parcel next to one of Archer’s historical, rural African American communities out of consideration for the Sand Bluff Solar Project.
During the press conference, Archer resident Loretha Cleveland said the community went from feeling outside of the process to becoming part of the project.
“At first, it seemed like it was only going in one direction,” Cleveland said. “But that was turned around. Everyone sat at the table and started to listen to each other—listen in a constructive way so that all parties could benefit.”
The Archer residents are now partnered with Origis to help the company find a suitable location.
Another Archer resident, Jeraldine McMillan, said the residents had never been against solar energy but wanted to protect the historic community and Longpond Cemetery—a resting spot for African American veterans of both world wars with graves dating to 1895.
Johan Vanhee, chief commercial and procurement officer for Origis, said the company had learned from the experience and never intended to give residents sleepless nights. He said Origis would move forward with more community engagement from the outset, not only in Florida but across the 27 states where it currently operates.
After Alachua County denied the permit, Origis filed a petition on Aug. 5, 2020, that looked to use Florida statute to move forward. However, in a letter on May 31, 2021, Vanhee notified the city and county that the company is withdrawing the petition and moving away from the site.
Last year, Archer residents showed up before the Gainesville City Commission to ensure the city abided by the county’s denial. At the time, Nathan Skop, attorney for 42 Archer residents, said his clients would like to see affirmative action by the city as reassurance.
Skop and the Archer residents repeated their desire for the Gainesville commission to adopt a resolution stating that neither the city nor Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) would try to build a solar farm on the site.
Skop said at the press conference that the city had been provided with a draft resolution to that effect two month ago. The resolution would have the city acknowledge the county’s denial, find the parcel in Archer an “inappropriate and inequitable” location for solar and direct GRU to not facilitate the creation of a solar array on the land or purchase any energy that would come from the parcel.
“After many months of negotiation, this agreement represents a positive outcome for my pro bono clients,” Skop said in the press conference. “Through this process Origis, particularly Johan, showed good faith in working together to find a win-win solution that everyone can be proud of.”
Gainesville contracted with Origis in July 2020 for a 50 Megawatt solar facility but never picked where the location would be. That decision has been left to Origis, according to Vanhee. The commission moved to continue an expiring agreement with Origis in December 2021.
After the conference, Vanhee told Mainstreet that the company hopes to finalize the top one or two sites in the next six to nine months and begin conversations with the communities surrounding the locations.
Vanhee added that the company wants to make future communities feel a part of the projects like Archer residents expressed they now feel.
He said the relationship between Origis and Gainesville has remained strong as GRU leadership kept believing in the project.