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Solar farms are coming to town

CHAD HOBBS Messenger Staff 

 “Green energy” or “renewable energy” are terms that we have all heard repeatedly, especially in recent years as debates over climate change and what that means for our planet have heated up at a far faster pace than our planet. The discussion has mainly revolved around solar and wind energy replacing more traditional forms of energy, and it has taken place more at the national level than that of the local level. That has all changed, however, as solar energy now appears to be making its way to Meade County.

 A couple of years ago, a California-based solar energy company began making its rounds in search of land between the Midway, Guston, Irvington, Webster area in hopes of building a solar farm. They offered landowners a lease contract that paid a nominal fee per year for every acre that was signed over to the company to build solar panels on. If and when the panels were actually built upon a land owner’s property, the yearly price per acre would go up significantly, however.

 For some, they wanted no part of the proposition. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that a natural gas company came around promising the great wealth to Meade Countians who signed over their property to be drilled upon. No one ever got rich from the deal, but more than one farmer’s field was destroyed by salt water flooding their fields and well work disrupting their soil.

 For others, though, the solar contracts offered an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up. Over three times the rate per year to lease the land to a solar company versus a farmer wasn’t a hard sell to some land owners and even farmers, looking for income stability on portions of their land.

 For the past few years, it appeared to have ended as quickly as it started from the outside looking in. Nothing was ever built. There was little to no talk of any future construction in the public realm, either. Solar hadn’t left, though. The companies were just getting their proverbial ducks in a row.

 At the July Fiscal Court meeting, this became very apparent to anyone who was paying attention to such things. Bryan Zoeller of Frost Brown Todd, representing that California solar company, spoke to Court. He was there to promote a planning and zoning ordinance change for solar energy.

 “This ordinance strikes a good balance between protecting your property in Meade County and setting forth the rules and standards by which a solar company would need to come in and develop a project here,” said Zoeller. “The clarity that’s provided in this ordinance really gives a developer a road map on how they need to construct a project and operate a project here in Meade County.”

 It now appears that not just one, but two, solar farms are looking to be developed here in Meade County by two separate companies. One is the aforementioned project along the HWY 79 corridor in the western part of the county. The second one is in southern Meade County along the Big Springs Road corridor.

 Strong opinions are quickly forming on both sides of these two projects. Those in opposition argue that there are serious environmental issues that need to be evaluated, especially with the straight line winds, tornados and sinkholes that this county is known for. They also argue that they don’t want to stare out from their homes at hundreds of acres of solar panels. The other side argues that the environmental issues are minimal, if not nonexistent, and that $700-$800 per acre per year for 20 years guaranteed is too good to pass up.

 Over the coming weeks, we will take a deeper look into these projects and try to answer many of the questions circulating right now revolving around why a California-based company is so interested in rural Meade County to attempt to farm the sun and what, if any, environmental concerns there may or may not be.