What two Opponents in the Solar Farm Battle Bring to the Table

Two opposing groups are meeting again with the Maysville Planning and Zoning Commission to try to hammer out an agreement on whether creating renewable solar power is a viable project for Mason County.  Three companies are currently applying to build solar farms in the county.  All are reputable companies traded on national stock exchanges.

What draws these companies to Mason County is the presence of power lines that can transfer solar power from a solar farm to the electric grid. These companies are all projecting the construction of 250 megawatt farms.

Acciona Energy is currently starting construction on a 188 megawatt farm in Fleming County on 1,857 acres.  They are planning to have a 2,500 acre project in Mason County.  National Grid is proposing a 2,000 acre facility and Innergex will have 2,500 acres.  Acciona has submitted economic impact figures to the Siting Board of the Public Service Commission for Fleming County.  The Siting Board has issued an order to proceed with the project. These figures are shown in Case # 2020-00206.  I have applied their figures to the Mason County projects and have come up with estimated impact numbers for Mason County.  

AEUG Fleming has told the Siting Board that they will build a 188 MW facility and have a capital expenditure of $190 million.  They will have 543 full time employees in construction and 17 afterwards during operations.  They have projected the construction payroll at $17 million.  These figures can be found in Ky Public Service Commission Siting Board Case # 2020-00206 entered 5/24/2021.

Using the above figures for a 250 MW project, the estimated capital expenditure would be $253 million. They would have over 600 construction employees with a $22 million construction payroll and 6 employees during operations.  This is for one project.  We would have 3 projects for a total of $759 million in capital expenditures and $67 million in construction payroll.  When Fleming County is added the total impact is $949 million capital expenditure plus $84 million in construction payroll. 

Fleming County’s financial impact will also impact Mason County as a lot of that payroll will be spent here.  The impact will not all come in one period of time but will be spread out over an extended period as Acciona’s Mason County project is about a year behind Fleming County and Innergex and National Grid are going to be one to one and a half years behind Acciona.  That would mean that the economic impact of the payroll would last about 5 years.  The same would hold true of the energy companies spending locally. These are mind boggling figures.  We can’t let this project slip through our fingers.

Tax revenues will be positively impacted by an increase in assessment which will give the county, if the projects are completed, approximately $620,000 a year in property tax.  There may be a tangible tax on personal property or a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) which could bring in a tremendous amount of additional revenue to the county.

These companies will be good neighbors for many years.  Some leases are for 30 years with extensions available carrying them out to 50 years.  They will contribute scholarships to MCTC, help our fire departments and other charities.  All our major manufacturing, except for Wald’s, is owned by outside sources and is one signature or lease maturity from leaving.  Look at Techno Trim, Federal Mogul, Crystal Tissue, Browning’s, Carnation and DP&L.  All gone.  These energy companies are going to put roots down with big expenditures which will keep them here for years along with about 35 employees.

The Citizen’s Voice is against these projects because they are going to affect the view. Every other reason they can think of has been proved wrong.  Topography and trees screen most of the view along the roads.  The energy companies will have to screen solar panels from residences by using fencing or trees.  Most views will be glimpses of panels as you drive past fields on roads like Route 324, Laytham Pike, Clift Pike, Key Pike or Route 161.  Most people in the county don’t know where these roads are.  On our farm, only about 14% of our leased ground can be seen from the road and there may not be any panels on those fields.

Why aren’t we rolling out the red carpet for Solar?  Why isn’t every business person in Mason County calling their commissioners and demanding that we do whatever it takes to attract these companies?  We are putting up roadblocks with the WECS Draft and trying to make it difficult for them to move here.  They won’t bring pollution or ask for tax incentives or create infrastructure problems.  They want to spend nearly a billion dollars in capital expenditures and 85 million dollars in construction labor in our community and bring us renewable energy.  They are doing this because there is capacity on the main electrical lines that cross the county.  As with most opportunities, this one is fleeting.  If Mason County doesn’t welcome these companies, they will go to other counties where these lines pass over like Rowan, Harrison or Clark Counties, the space on the lines will be consumed, and we will no longer have the resource to attract this industry.

Mason county lost population again in the 2020 Census.  We have been around 17,000 people for as long as I can remember.  Don’t let a few people take away this opportunity because they want to exert power over property that they don’t own.

Let’s ditch the WECS draft (windmills are gone) and accept the Kentucky Model Solar Ordinance, use reasonable setbacks and get Mason County moving on a progressive path.  Grab this opportunity while it’s available.  No small-town areas get a chance for a billion-dollar infusion. This is our first chance.  As leaders in our community, don’t let it slip away.

Dave Clarke

May’s Lick