Reposted from the Lexington Herald Leader
It has been three years since out-of-state solar developers set off a firestorm in Winchester-Clark County when they attempted to change our local zoning ordinance to permit industrial solar facilities to be built on thousands of acres of prime farmland.
Now, an alternate process could undermine local decision-making on this pivotal issue.
In late January, we received a confidential report that East Kentucky Power Cooperative was examining a potential industrial-scale solar facility in Northern Clark County on 2,800acres that had previously been under-contract to the out-of-state developers.
Several weeks later, Clark Coalition’s directors met with EKPC executives David Crews and Nick Comer. Though they would neither confirm nor deny the report, we learned that East Kentucky Power had initiated a request for proposals (RFP) to build 200 MW of solar generation per year. Responses to this RFP would come from merchant solar developers and internally from EKPC itself. The latter is concerning because, unlike the solar developers, East Kentucky Power is not subject to planning and zoning oversight.
It was clear, throughout the meeting and in our subsequent correspondence, that EKPC was not considering the impact of such a facility on local citizens or the extensive legislative process that has taken place in Clark County over the last three years.
Could EKPC really be so oblivious? Not at all.
Shortly following our September 2020op-ed, “Industrial Solar Facilities are Wrong for Clark County’s Irreplaceable Farmland” and the release of a petition that now has over 3,000 signatures, Nick Comer penned a response clarifying EKPC’s role in local solar energy. In this submission, EKPC was quick to distance itself from the industrial solar developers’ plans – citing that EKPC had not entered any agreements with the developers and that federal law requires open access to their transmission lines.
Now, it appears EKPC may be changing course, and potentially using its statutory powers to override the local process and bring to fruition a solar development that has been overwhelmingly rejected by Clark County’s citizens.
What makes this potential solar development even more suspect is EKPC’s outspoken criticism of the rushed energy transition– specifically the inability of intermittent renewables to supplant reliable generation sources to meet our country’s energy needs. Since August 2021, EKPC President and CEO Tony Campbell has sent six letters to the Biden Administration warning of the threat to reliability and affordability posed by the rushed transition to renewables.
In his July 2021 letter, Mr. Campbell writes “I am concerned the U.S. is moving toward a grid featuring reliability similar to California’s, one that is over-reliant on intermittent energy resources, voluntary service curtailments and imports from other regions.”
Ironically, it is the Biden Administration’s 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, and its direct-pay provisions for tax-exempt utilities, that has contributed to EKPC’s change of tune. While EKPC will likely claim that it is pursuing these federal handouts for the benefit of its owner-members it’s worth asking the question: “Does anyone think their energy bill is going to go down as a result of this?”
Furthermore, is it right for an entity that doesn’t pay taxes to use tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to pursue an ill-conceived, speculative development that has been rejected by the community in which it was proposed?
As we have consistently stated since our inception, Clark Coalition supports solar on rooftops, reclaimed mine sites and appropriately-zoned industrial land. However, we strongly oppose the conversion of Clark County’s world-class farmland for large-scale solar development –whether it’s by out-of-state solar developers or an out-of-touch utility.
Should EKPC wish to pursue solar development, we would point out that there are currently over 100 active projects, totaling 9,500 MW in the interconnection queue in EKPC’s service territory. This is to say nothing of the 3,300 acres of marginal land – that notably already contains transmission infrastructure – EKPC owns in Trapp, or the 30,000+ unlicensed panels at its current solar facility on Lexington Road.
We call on EKPC to respect the years-long legal process that Clark County’s citizens have undertaken to determine the appropriate application of solar in our community.
Will Mayer is the executive director of Clark Coalition, a land-use advocacy organization promoting smart-growth, sustainable economic development and government transparency in Winchester-Clark County.