Reality check on Claims made by Stop Solar folks

Current corn and soybean practices are losing precious topsoil.

If you doubt our area has excessive erosion, simply consider the amount of silt that is regularly being dredged out of our waterways like Limestone creek, the Maysville Boat Doc inlet, and the lake at Washington recreation park. Another test is to check the silt in county road ditches and the color of the Ohio River after a rain event.

Meadows and Sod preserve topsoil

Grass and legume crops can help lessen erosion because they maintain a cover on most of the soil surface for the whole year. Their extensive root systems hold soil in place. The increased soil health helps maintain lower erosion and runoff rates during rain events. 

USDA pamphlet on Healthy Soil

Everyone seems to agree that saving topsoil is critical.

Installing solar stops tillage. Little to no soil needs to be moved to prepare for solar panels. The process is to drive posts into the ground (much like a metal fence posts). Then racking is bolted onto those posts and the panels are attached to that racking. Conductors lead from each panel to the end of that string of panels, at which point they enter underground conduits that lead to an inverter. These inverters convert the DC power from several strings of panels to higher voltage AC electricity. From there, conductors connect the high voltage side of each inverter to the central substation that again increases the voltage so it is suitable for a long distance transmission line.

The point is little no topsoil is moved. Trenching for the conduits is much like trenching to install a water line to supply livestock waters. The Stop-Solar folks suggest it is like the strip mines around Paradise KY. In fact, moving soil costs money, but brings no benefit to the solar developer. Stop-solar repeated comparison to strip mining is simply fear-mongering and has no basis in reality.

Once the panels are installed, reestablishing sod under them is everyone’s top priority. This ground cover will prevent erosion plus build topsoil and organic matter for the life of the solar installation.

Much like a barn roof, fixed-pitch solar panels had a stationary drip-drip line under their edge. Special care had to be taken to ensure this repeated concentration of falling water did not cause erosion.

Tracking solar panels avoid this issue because they are aligned on a North-South axis and change their tilt throughout the day as they track the sun. In the morning they are nearly vertical and facing east. As mid-day approaches, they have moved to almost level and facing straight up. During the afternoon they move toward vertical facing west, as they remain aimed at the sun. Then over night they return to vertical facing East.

Because they change their tilt throughout the day they do not have one fixed drip line. This results in the water falling on an acre of solar being spread across the land much the same as if it was an acre of corn or soybeans. However since the solar will have a sod ground cover the topsoil will be much more protected.

In addition, solar sod will provide decades for beneficial soil organisms to work their magic, undisturbed by massive doses of pesticides and the compaction caused by the heavy equipment used in row crop farming.

Stop-Solar voices often talk of sinkholes and local limestone formations, and imply solar will have a negative effect. However, we know the same amount of rain will fall on an acre regardless of whether it is covered with corn, soybeans, forest, pasture or the sod under solar panels. I hope we can agree that thet the important question is which ground surface can best control the rains runoff. of all possible surfaces, sod will provide the best control of falling water by solwing the runoff and allowing the most uniform water infiltration.

A typical stormwater control structure of a solar farm

In addition, KY’s PUC siting board requires developers to install stormwater control structures. Thus well-regulated solar is our county’s best way to preserve our topsoil and control stormwater.

At the end of the solar lease, after the solar panels, racking, inverters, and substation are removed and solar for salvage, one simply needs to pull the post to return the land to conventional agriculture. Much like abandoned underground stock water lines, there is no benefit from digging up conduits that are well below the root zone and too deep to be hit by any tillage tools. (Oh and don’t forget that a developer must post a bond to cover decommissioning before construction starts.)

For all these reasons solar is an excellent land use of A1 and A2 zones, if you want to preserve our priceless topsoil and environment.

Stop-Solar speeches at Public Hearing

Complete YouTube recording of Nov 18, 2021, public meeting