Solar farms: Community Energy and Meade County Solar — Part Two


CHAD HOBBS

Messenger Staff


This week’s article on the Meade County solar projects series will pick up where it left off last week, covering Community Energy’s public meeting.

Besides the environmental impact, one of the big concerns of some residents living within close proximity of these solar projects is what impact these solar farms will have on their property values. Community Energy had a ‘Property Value Impact Study’ conducted to evaluate whether there would be a negative impact on property values in Meade County due to their project.

According to them, the six areas which have the most influence on surrounding property values for a project are: hazardous materials, odor, noise, traffic, stigma and appearance. The study claimed to find there are no hazardous materials or odors associated with solar farms, no instances of audible sounds at the periphery of the solar farms inspected, no significant impact to traffic, no negative stigma against solar farms as a neighboring use and no negative visual impacts due to enhanced setbacks and buffers from neighboring residences. As a result, it concluded that “the proposed solar farm would not likely have a negative impact on local property values.”

Community Energy plans on starting construction in 2022, pending approval of a Construction Certificate. It is anticipated that during the 6-9 months of construction that there will be approximately 150 construction jobs associated with the project. Chris Kellenberg, Regional Development Director for the company, said that many of these jobs will be local hirings. A lot of these jobs will not require a skilled trade, as they will be positions assembling the racking system and panels. There will also be a need for local trades such as electric, surveying, earthmoving, fencing and landscaping. Kellenberg said that anyone in any of these trades interested in possibly working on the project can contact Community Energy. They maintain a list of local vendors and will pass that on to the construction contractor.

Once construction is completed, there will be 2-3 full-time jobs which will be involved with operations and maintenance of the solar farm. One of the main duties of these jobs will be mowing and weed eating, along with preventive maintenance and repairs.

During the meeting, I asked Kellenberg what the anticipated cost for this project would be, and who would ultimately pay that cost — Community Energy, Nucor, Big Rivers or the customers of Meade County RECC — since Community Energy plans to turn over ownership of the farm once it is completed to an undisclosed, at this time, entity. He said he deferred for the moment to disclose the cost or name of the private entity.

“There will be a private investor that will pay for this. When I say private investor, it is going to be a large company, sometimes a utility, sometimes an investment fund, but someone who is familiar with owning and operating a power generating facility,” Kellenberg explained. “So in the past, the investors of our projects have included Dominion Energy, Duke Power, people like that, but it could also be an investment fund that is specifically for the purpose of owning and operating and holding power generating assets like that.”

According to Community Energy, the project will not cost the citizens of Meade County anything, through taxes or increased energy rates. In fact, they say the solar farm will “pay substantial taxes over 30 years” that will be many multiples of the current tax rate on the land.

“No money will be required from the citizens of Meade County or the customers of Meade County Electric to fund the project. It is completely privately funded, and the power is cost competitive, so it shouldn’t negatively affect rates either,” explained Kellenberg. “From the ratepayers prospective, it should be a neutral event or positive because it locks in a low price over a long period of time.’

It wasn’t that long ago that Meade Countians heard similar claims on another large investment in the community. Will PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) programs come into play once again with one or both of the solar farms slated to be built? Who will be the private investor and will they get huge tax breaks and incentives for investing in green energy, further evading Meade County property taxes? Only time will tell.

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