Future depends on solar decision — Reality Check

This is a reality check on the Aug 28, 2021 Citizens Voice of Mason County Inc. submitted “Letter to the Editor” in the Ledger Independent.

  • Claim: tens of thousands of solar acres – Reality: No one can know the future. CVoMC continues to inflate the potential size of solar in Mason County, KY. Recently the anti-solar effort has been throwing around the number of 25,000 acres. If we adopt appropriate regulations, why is that a problem?
    • If we consider only the benefits to local tax districts for real estate property tax, the numbers work like this: current average PVA value of Mason County agricultural land is currently valued at $795/ acre. KY Department of Revenu says they will use the income method to assess land value for solar. With a 7% cap rate on $650/acre/year lease payments that values the land at $9285/ acre. This increase of $8,490 in assessed value will mean an increased payments per acre of $81.27 to our local tax districts. (note All tax rates are 2019 levels) See detailed explanation of calculations
    • Here is the increase local tax receipts per year for various total solar acres
      • Acres Extra annual tax Percent of total agricultural land
      • 6,000 – $487,620 4.0%
      • 9,000 – $731,430 6.0%
      • 25,000 – $2,031,750 16.6%
    • If we could achieve 25,000 acres (which I doubt in next 10 years) we
      • gain more tax revenue,
      • save more top soil from erosion
      • reduce polution from ag chemical
      • inject substatintial new revenue into local economy
      • increase employment relative to current agricultual labor requirments
      • and I can go on but you get the drift …
    • The overal benefits are possible if we establish solar zoning that assures
      • appropriate screening
      • eliinates impact on noise sensitve areaa
      • bonding to guarantee decommissioning
      • stomwater management and all the other issues covered int the Kentucky Model Solar Ordinance – 2020
    • While in the short term 6,000 acres will be a stretch, if over time we are able to attact more solar I fail to see the concern.
  • Claim – destabilized property values is again claimed but not supported.
    • I agree that a long-term solar lease property will be worth more than a cash grain or cow-calf operation. Is that increase the concern?
    • Surely we are not again hearing the old fear of “hurting neighboring property values”. Ms. Berry directs us to “Planning for Utility-Scale Solar Energy Facilities By Darren Coffey, aic “. On page 7 the article that they recommend states “Property values. The impact of utility-scale solar facilities is typically negligible on neighboring property values. This can be a significant concern of adjacent residents, but negative impacts to property values are rarely demonstrated and are usually directly addressed by applicants as part of their project submittal. ” So even their own sources agree there is no evidence of impacting neighboring property values.
  • Claim – Heavy metal contamination – Reality:
    • The most commonly utilized solar technologies use inert materials found at every building site including silicon (glass), aluminum (frame) and copper (wiring). Read more
    • The cadmium in cadmium telluride (CdTe) PV panels is a non-soluble material; which is very stable. Read more
  • Claim – creating only a few permanent jobs for local residents Reality Solar is mostly replacing row crops and cow-calf operations. Row crops are highly mechanized with low labor requirements per acre. While cow-calf operations have concentrated activity, overall they require little full-time labor. The Hillcrest Solar Farm demonstrates that Solar supports more jobs per acre. Read more
  • Claim – posing numerous financial liabilities for our municipal government coffers Reality – While they give no support information on this claim could this claim be based on recaimation of the solar farm at end of life?
    • If Mason County adopts a solar zoning regulation based on the Kentucky Model Solar Zoning Ordinance then it will have these requirements for issuing the Solar Farm’s conditional use permit.
      • The anticipated life of project and and defined conditions upon which decommissioning will be initiated;
      • The estimated decommissioning cost, updated every 5 years.
      • The manner in which the project will be decommissioned
      • The parties responsible for decommissioning
      • A performance bond, letter of credit, or other financial assurance payable to either the City of Maysville or the Mason County Fiscal Court sufficient to cover the net costs identified to assure that decommissioning of the site can be achieved by a third party in the event that a permittee defaults in that obligation
    • These requirements assure reclamation. Read more
  • Claim – generating significant water run-off – Relaity: Solar panels do not change the amount of rain falling on an acre. Rain falling on a panel runs off at the dripline. Stormwater control is highly regulated for solar projects. Read more
  • Claim – ‘compromising the “carbon sink” of our natural greenspaces, and eroding the “factory floor” of our food industry here in Mason County.’ Realaity: Ms. Berry refers to our precious topsoil as “the factory floor of our food industry.” Most of us know that topsoil is our area’s most nonrenewable resource. Mason County’s ridges and side slopes need the protection of Solar’s sod, NOW! Read more

Ms. Berry next launches into a series of interesting discussion points that I hope she will bring up at the Solar public meeting. However, she seems not to want discussion at a public meeting, but only advocates delay. Our county’s future requires a public meeting where everyone can express their concerns and support their proposed solutions using evidence and logic. We cannot allow a small group to continually postpone our county’s preparation for the future by advocating that instead we all dither, deny and procrastinate.

Ms. Berry next asks us to model Clark County’s Solar moratorium. Clark County (Winchester) is a bedroom community of Lexington-Fayette county and also has access to two interstate highways and the mountain parkway. All of these facts must allow them enough confidence to not worry about walking away from the opportunity solar presents. Wishing Mason County had those advantages will not make it so. We need to come together and decide how we can mold our reality to best prepare for our future.

The article Ms. Berry recommended is an excellent overview of the planning issues around solar. I see it as a checklist of the issues we must consider as we move forward. And move forward, we must. Continuing to deny our reality and procrastinate will not prepare Mason County for the future. If we reject Solar, our area must immediately move on to other alternatives or accept an ever-worsening economic and ecological future.

Mason County can not let this be our approach to the future