On May 25, 2022, no Citizens Voice of Mason County Inc. members opted to speak at the Fiscal Court’s public meeting on solar regulation but instead had an attorney be their only spokesperson. Their attorney was not prepared to accept the unreasonable 500-foot setbacks but instead advocated for 1000 feet.

Today, May 27, a Stop-Solar voice still seems to lack the conviction necessary to sign their letters to the editor.

Let’s review the claims made in the letter no one was prepared to sign.

The author first claims pro-solar folks think that “people of Mason County and their commissioners are totally ignorant”. In the next paragraph, they use the word contiguous and then feel the need to define it for the “pro solars”. Throughout this process, those of us who favor solar have presented evidence and not resorted to elementary schoolyard name-calling. We do this because we resect the people of our county and believe they need to know who is telling them something. This decision is too important to use emotional arguments. We all need to base our decisions on logic supported with peer reviewed evidence.

The letter’s author’s primary claim is “Most of the footprint of the proposed projects are contiguous (that’s next to each other for you solars) properties, therefore no setback from the property line using the whole 100 acre farm.”

Setbacks in the real world do cost the landowner and the tax districts and as they get larger they cost more. All while consuming more land to make the desired amount of electricity.

I did not write the advertisement the letter discussed. But let’s review the things that are irrefutable.

  1. All three large-scale solar arrays discussed at the May 25 Fiscal Court meeting are 80 Mw or larger.
  2. With reasonable setbacks, each will requires 1000 acres or more.
  3. Each landowner has the constitutional right to decide if they want to lease any part of their land to a solar array.
  4. Few if any landowners own enough land to site an entire solar farm on one property.

The setback is important when you want solar but the neighboring farm does not. Setbacks are less important if you could find a group of parcels whose owners all want to lease to solar. Circles are best but in the real world, we have rectangles. However, our area’s relatively small parcel size, along with the 10 situations where the JPC’s proposed language setbacks, make setbacks VERY important.

Let’s look at a real-world situation. As you may have guessed I (Bill Marshall) have signed an option for a solar lease on my land. One of my neighbors did not choose to sign an option. I fully support their right to make that decision. However, that means we have a participating /non-participating boundary between our farms.

Setback Calculation on boundary of two neighbors

Determine length of boundary

A reasonable 50-foot setback takes 5.7 acres out of production, while the extreme 500-foot setback takes 64.8 acres. That extra 450 feet deep setback takes 59.1 acres of potential solar production along this boundary. To produce the same amount of electricity, the solar developer must lease 59.1 more acres somewhere else in Mason County to replace the land taken by this wasteful setback.

Because the JPC’s proposed language measures setback from the outer fence, all 59.1 acres of this setback are outside the fence. Becuase solar companies only pay to lease land “inside the fence” all of this setback land will pay real estate property tax on its value for agricultural use, not solar use. 

Mason County PVA Troy Craycraft testified that solar land pays $85.92 per acre more than agricultural land each year.

Because the extra 450 feet depth of setback will be taxed at ag value, our local tax districts lose $5,078.81 of revenue each year. Over the 30-year life of the project, local tax districts will forfeit $152,364.33 in tax revenue on the excess setback land along a single participating / non-participating boundary of one farm. Excessive Setbacks DO MATER.

The leter’s claim “They catch fire, emitting toxic fumes that require large amounts of water and are very difficult to control” is simply another blast of F(ear) U(ncertainty) and D(oubt). 

Much like a nearly empty concrete building, solar panels are not fireproof. But since solar panels do not store energy, they are extremely hard to ignite and even harder to keep burning. Because the first clause of their sentence is nonsensical, the rest of the claim has no basis.

I challenge Citizens Voice of Mason County Inc. to come to WFTM-FM and record a discussion about solar in Mason County. Such a meeting will help the public better understand the claims each side is making. WFTM is willing to organize such a meeting. This decision will impact our county’s ecological and financial future. The public needs a better way to hear the evidence supporting both viewpoints.  

If the Stop-Solar voices enter into such a conversation, we could explore if the above letter is talking about battery farms rather than solar farms. However, until we are able to have a two-way fact-based discussion, the public will not be able to judge the merit of the letter’s claim.

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Bill Marshall, Key Pike, Maysville KY