Top-notch farmland is needed for food, not solar power
As a resident and taxpayer of Mason County, I oppose the installation of industrial solar farms on prime agricultural land. Due to population growth in Kentucky and the United States, I think this is not the best use of the prime farmland out there. This prime agricultural land is needed to produce food and dairy products to feed our residents while supplying products to other states and countries.
The massive importation of products and a complex supply chain have led to less fresh, lower-quality fruits and vegetables on our grocery store shelves. We need this land to remain agricultural so that it can be available to provide our own residents with quality produce rather than depending on other countries.
The US Census Bureau recently released its 2020 data showing an increase in Kentucky’s population of 3.8% (166,469 people) from 2010 to 2020. This population growth brings our total population in Kentucky to 4.5 million people. (Northern Kentucky Tribune-September 12, 2021). In addition, the total US population as of April 1, 2020 was 331.4 million people, an increase of 22.7 million (7.9%) since 2010. With extreme droughts, wildfires that are raging and a rapidly changing climate, I think we need to keep top notch farmland available for farming instead of leasing it to industrial solar companies for 20-25 year contracts. The demand and need for food and food will increase just as our population grows over the next 20 to 25 years.
Leaders of the Pro-Industrial Solar Group have released calculations on the amount of new tax revenue that can be collected in our county by authorizing Industrial Solar. In my opinion, these are just numbers on a spreadsheet that can be manipulated to produce the desired result. The truth is, there are no existing facilities in the state or other places that can prove that these revenue estimates are accurate and achievable or simply based on assumptions that cannot be verified with real installations.
I hope our leaders will not endorse industrial solar farms in our county on the mere idea of a perfect world based on all of this expected new income and growth for our community that may not be achieved. I don’t think we should step in and allow industrial solar farms in Mason County without having proven examples of successful installations in other places in Kentucky or the surrounding states.
Another problem for me is that these industrial solar farms will not generate or supply electricity to the citizens living in Mason County, so our rates will not go down. In fact, our rates will most likely increase due to the need for upgrades to the electricity grid. These additional charges will be passed on to customers, as they currently are, on your utility bill as “environmental surcharges”. The megawatts (MW) of electricity generated by these solar farms will be sold to other companies such as Amazon through the grid.
Energy companies that have leases on these local solar farms will compete with other such companies across the United States to generate electricity for these customers through the grid at lower rates. They are also in potential competition with grid owners such as East Kentucky Power (EKP) and Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities Company (LG & E-KU). Both of these companies have existing solar farms and have the potential to add more. On October 13, 2021, LG & E-KU announced plans to build a new 125 megawatt solar installation in Western Kentucky. I would rather see the existing power companies in our state developing solar parks over power companies in other countries that have no connection to Mason County or the state of Kentucky. LG & E-KU and EKP have a long history in Kentucky and are regulated by the Public Service Commission (PSC). What happens to these solar parks if they cannot compete or provide electricity at reliable or cheaper rates than their competitors? What is left for farm owners? What remains of Mason County? I know the pro-industrial solar group will always use their FUD (Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt) slogan to dismiss any negative comments about industrial solar farms. For these people, everything solar is positive. With a little research, a person can find articles that prove that there are negatives with industrial solar farms. Some of these negatives are noise levels caused by solar inverters, recycling issues, soil erosion causing environmental damage, and declining value of surrounding properties. I think most people would hesitate to buy a house near a solar farm. I know I would be.
An article regarding possible damage to our environment was reported in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on April 29, 2020. In Williamsburg, Massachusetts, the Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Dynamic Energy Solutions LLC of Pennsylvania. According to the lawsuit, the construction of their solar farm resulted in the modification of 97,000 square feet of protected wetlands and more than 41,000 feet of riparian area, covering the river bottom with sediment pollution and damaging habitat.
These problems have resulted in violations of the federal Clean Water Act and the Massachusetts Clean Waters Act. More details on this lawsuit and the serious environmental accident are available online (gazettenet.com). We don’t need these kinds of problems in Mason County.
As a taxpayer, I don’t think our tax dollars should be used to provide tax credits to energy companies outside of the United States. Two energy companies interested in using Mason County’s premier farmland are headquartered outside of the United States. Accoina Energy is headquartered in Alcobendas, Spain, while Innergex is headquartered in Canada. They have no connection in Mason County or the state of Kentucky. I believe the only reason they want to move here is because of the tax credits they would receive.
I am a proponent of renewable energies, such as solar or wind power, but not on our main agricultural lands. This land will be needed to provide food for future generations. We have land in other locations that could be used for solar operations without affecting our main agricultural base. I hope Mason County officials will not approve the installation of industrial solar farms without taking into account the concerns of all citizens of Mason County. It is our children and grandchildren who will suffer the good or bad consequences of this decision.
Terry J. Anderson