Mercer Residents Continue To Voice Opposition To Solar Development
The Mercer Coalition for Responsible Development held another meeting to discuss the possible expansion of solar power in the county.
On Monday, May 8, the speakers laid out their opposition to the solar development and the importance of the proposed site for the solar farm, the Wilkinson Farm. The owner, Ceres Farms LLC of South Bend, Indiana, sold two parcels of the Wilkinson farm in April, one to Kentucky Utilities for $9.8 million and another to the Mercer County Solar Project LLC for $5.2 million.
John Trisler, the chairman of the Harrodsburg-Mercer County Industrial Development Authority, said their opposition to the solar farm was about jobs, in particular manufacturing jobs. Trisler said there were 2,500 manufacturing/industrial jobs in Mercer County in 2016. By 2021, there were less than 2,000 jobs.
“We’re headed in the wrong direction,” said Trisler. “None of my kids work in Mercer County. Only one of my grandkids work in Mercer County.”
Trisler attributed that to declining opportunities locally. Efforts by the industrial development authority to market the county to manufacturing and industrial interests, has been stymied by the lack of land available for development.
“We can’t show property for Mercer County for jobs if you have no land,” Trisler said.
That’s why the Wilkinson farm was important as a potential industrial site, he said. Trisler noted the site had US 127 on one side and the railroad on the other as well as two major transmission lines and adequate water. While sewer would have to be run from the plant to the site, Trisler said the local natural gas provider had made a commitment to get gas to the site. In addition, the land needed little excavation to be ready for industrial development, he said.
Trisler said there had been three visits to the site from companies scouting for new locations and the industrial development authority had received six requests for information, the latest one this week.
He said other possible locations in Mercer County for industrial development have limitations, they’re either too small or lack access to transportation or utilities.
“That’s why the Wilkinson land is important to us,” Trisler said.
The nonprofit Mercer Coalition for Responsible Development claims to be a, nonpartisan group that advocates for responsible development practices. While several speakers said they are not opposed to solar power, all the speakers spoke against two current solar projects—one at the location on U.S. 127 known as the Wilkinson Farm, and another possible project, the Herrington Solar Project, at Springlake Farms near Burgin.
Earlier this year, the Kentucky Public Service Commission granted the Mercer County Fiscal Court’s motion to intervene in Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities’ plan to build a 120-megawatt solar array in Mercer County. Solar is only part of the utility provider’s plans. KU also seeks to build two 621-megawatt natural gas combined-cycle units—including one at the E.W. Brown Generating Station in Burgin—as well as building a proposed battery storage facility at Brown Station. Along with the solar array, KU is calling the plan the largest energy efficiency proposal in their history. The public hearing is scheduled for August and the PSC is not expected to announce their decision until November.
Speakers said they were not opposed to KU employees here in Mercer County, but they did oppose the utility’s solar plans, stressing the utility provider is owned by PPL Corporation of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Community leaders have previously stated they are not opposed to KU’S plan to build the new natural gas unit and a 125 megawatt battery storage facility in Burgin. But they have argued in filings with the PSC that they believe the Wilkinson farm, which consists of approximately 1,895 acres, would be better suited for industrial development and not a solar facility.
The coalition claims the Wilkinson farm has the potential to be home to a facility employing as many as 7,000 people, which would be one of the biggest in Kentucky, trailing only the Ford plant in Louisville and the Toyota plant in Georgetown. While members of the coalition have stressed the positive economic impact such a facility could have on Mercer County, only Trisler addressed the other impacts a factory that size would have on the community—including schools, roads and the environment. Trisler said they’d spent $720,000 in surveys, including designing setbacks and buffers.
“We’re not going to run things right up to somebody’s fence,” Trisler said.
“We want to be responsible for the proper development of our land,” he said. “We don’t want them to tell us what to do with our property.”
It was a noticeably smaller crowd than at the first coalition meeting in April, which organizers said drew approximately 400 people. The organizers said they expected that, setting out only about 200 chairs, but less than half of those were filled Monday night. There was no opportunity for the audience to ask questions, although organizers said they could post questions to the coalition’s website.
State Rep. Kim King told those in attendance how to access contact legislators via legislature.ky.gov. King said she and State Sen. Amanda Mays Bledsoe both attended the meeting in April, but had not been invited to speak.
“We were here,” King said. “We could have been much further down the line if we’d been brought into the conversation much earlier.”
King said she had met house leadership about the issue. “A lot of folks are very concerned,” she said.
“I’m going to be continuing to fight,” King said.
The Mercer Coalition for Responsible Development is scheduled to hold another meeting on Monday, June 12, at 6 p.m.