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Planning And Zoning Still Reviewing Solar Ordinances

Robert Moore
Herald Staff

The Harrodsburg-Mercer County Planning and Zoning Commission made three decisions at their last meeting, but their biggest decision—especially when it comes to the future of solar power—may be yet to come.

The planning and zoning commission has been looking at drafting an ordinance which would allow solar facilities as a conditional use—meaning they would have to be approved before being built. Officials have stressed that this ordinance is not connected to any project.

Even though there is already a solar farm in Mercer County—Kentucky Utilities has operated a 10 megawatt solar facility at the E.W. Brown Generating Station in Burgin since 2016—last year local residents opposed a proposal to build a $150 million solar farm on the old Wilkinson farm along U.S. 127. The project would have had about half a million panels spread across 1,200 acres and could have generated revenues of up to $9 million for the county over 35 years.

While solar power may not be popular with some here in Mercer County and other rural areas across the country, its popularity is growing rapidly across the world and here in the U.S.

According to a March report from CNBC, solar installations grew 43 percent in 2020, reaching a record 19.2 gigawatts of new capacity. California, Texas, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina were the top five states for growth in solar power. According to CNBC, the U.S. solar market will quadruple by the end of the decade.

Much of that growth is fueled by large companies such as Amazon, Walmart, General Motors and FedEx, which have made the commitment to be carbon-neutral by 2040. In March, FedEx announced they were investing $2 billion to start electrifying their fleet of more than 180,000 vehicles, according to the Washington Post.

Earlier this year, the zoning commission was asked by Judge-Executive Milward Dedman to look into creating an ordinance for solar facilities. Commissioners have been reviewing ordinances enacted by other localities. However, the head of the subcommittee, attorney Mike Harden, has resigned because he has been retained to represent a former city employee in a wrongful termination suit against Harrodsburg. In addition to heading the solar subcommittee, Harden was also the vice chair. Board member Jonathan Elliott was selected as Harden’s replacement as vice chair.

While discussing how to proceed with the solar ordinance, Elliott said he had been approached by a solar advocate from Danville who offered to show him an ordinance.

“They’re putting you in a bad position,” said Executive-Director Shawn Moore. “It will get you all in trouble.”

Moore recommended they not talk to advocates. He said the commission had been asked to come up with the amendment themselves.

Board member Tom Hardy took Harden’s spot on the solar subcommittee, who are continuing to review ordinances. Public meetings will be held before anything is enacted, officials say.

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1 Comment

  1. John Cotten on July 22, 2021 at 11:19 am

    I manage Wilderness Trace Solar in Danville, KY, I am also resident of Mercer County. I serve as vice president for the Kentucky Solar Energy Industries Association.

    When Boyle County began working on their solar zoning ordanances, which were adopted were adopted about three years ago, I was asked by the county zoning officer to go over the suggested language at the time to work with them. Suggestions were made in language and criteria so solar could be installed in residential, commercial, agricultural, and industrial settings. Those suggestions were integrated into the final language of the zoning ordanances for the county, and are available to the public for anyone who wants to read or research them.

    I am a bit confused how consulting an industry professional who designs and builds solar systems full time from small off-grid systems to systems over a megawatt for large scale commercial use, would get the commission in trouble. My offer still stands to assist the committee. Also the Director of P&Z for Boyle County has also offered to assist the Mercer Co P&Z committee in writing there recommendations for solar installations. Having up to date information on current products, installation materials, technologies, required NEC requirements, NABCEP recommendations, recommendations for fire and rescue considerations, reqired signage and spacing for solar installations is key to having a well written ordanance, that will benefit the residents, businesses, and others interested in installing solar. KSIA members are also working with other counties in Kentucky to assist in zoning language. I wish the commission the best on their research and editing.

    In closing I would say to the general public, residential, agrovoltaics, and commercial solar are vastly different than a large scale utility grade solar installations. The same rules in nearly all cases do not apply from one to the other.
    John Cotten, General Manager, Wilderness Trace Solar, Danville, KY.

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