Fiscal court votes end to solar farm controversy – for now

Published 4:08 pm Friday, August 27, 2021

The Clark County Fiscal Court voted 6-0 to accept the Winchester-Clark County Planning Commission’s recommendation to deny two ordinances that would have amended local zoning to allow solar farm projects on industrial and agricultural land.

The court also approved an amendment made by Magistrate Daniel Konstantantopoulos to prevent any industrial solar projects in the county until the issue can be studied by the planning commission in a comprehensive land plan. 

The planning commission proposed not approving the ordinances and then passed the issue to the court at its Aug. 3 meeting.

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The moves came Thursday night front of a packed courtroom, with many attendees holding signs denouncing “Industrial Solar.” 

Attorney Tom Miller of Lexington, legal counsel for the Clark Coalition called such projects “unsightly” and suggested they would be a blight on the pastoral beauty of the area. The Clark Coalition is a local land-use advocacy group that has led the near year and a half battle against industrial solar,

“It has a viewshed impact,” Miller said. “They will have lights and solar cells up to 20 feet high, it’s possibl. We had a lot of homeowners that were very troubled by the fact that they built their home next to a farm and the next day it could be, if Geenex and the others win out, that they will be sitting on their porch and staring at the solar panels.”

Miller also said that most of the personnel hired to construct such projects would be union labor from out of state and that the local agricultural economy in Clark County produces “$197 million in annual input.”

 The court’s decision was met by loud applause from the majority of those in attendance. One of them was Clark County resident Kirby Riggs.

Riggs said he agreed with the decision because he thinks that the companies pushing to build solar farms are just in it to make money.

“I feel like that the group, Geenex, that is pushing this, they are a group from out of state that is coming in here to build this development plan and then sell it and be done, and not have any responsibilities to maintain it or decommission it,” Riggs said. 

He said he also soured on Geenex after hearing about opposition to solar farms in neighboring states.

“My concerns are if this is such a good idea, the way they sell it, then why is there so much opposition,” Riggs said.

Emily Williams, Geenex’s director of development for Kentucky, represented the North Carolina-based company at the meeting, pointing out the economic benefits that a solar farm project would bring to the community.

“There’s an opportunity here to keep these economic benefits local,” Williams said, using the example of a 100-megawatt installation. “Just during construction, we would be looking at $23 million in revenues. That’s by wages, payroll taxes that are paid, investments that are made here locally from buying equipment and employing local folks.”

Williams estimated that such a project would generate $5.5 million in property tax revenue over the course of its life span.

For one Clark countian, solar is the only hope he sees for his farm to turn a profit.

Gary Witt, who owns the 170-acre farm that he grew up on located on Paris Rd. said he has been trying to find a way to “make a good income” off the farm since he retired from Toyota three years ago. A local agricultural extension agent told him the best he could do with his land was “mow it and pay the taxes on it.”

His farm had been for sale for two years when Geenex made him an offer to build on his property. After research and reflection, Witt signed a contract with them.

“It’s the only way I know I can make a guaranteed profit for the next 20 years plus,” Witt said. “The first contract is for 20 years and it is for a set amount [of money] that increases every year.”

As for Geenex, Williams said they look forward to continuing to work in the county and will try to mitigate the concerns expressed by local residents.