Solar Farms in Boyle County Must Be Built RESPONSIBLY
Kentucky is increasingly turning to large-scale solar energy production as an alternative to fossil fuels. This offers a great deal of promise to both the Commonwealth and to Boyle County, in terms of providing economic development opportunities as well as environmental benefits. But there are important steps we can and should take to ensure that we, our neighbors, and our communities can preserve our existing quality of life through good land stewardship, at the same time that we benefit from clean energy projects.
Laws and regulations can help make sure that so-called “solar farms” responsibly address a number of community concerns. For example, they should not significantly diminish the potential for agricultural production or target significant prime farmland (An estimated 1.5 million acres of farmland are lost each year across the U.S., according to the American Farmland Trust, which also ranks Kentucky as one of the states most vulnerable to loss of farmland). They should be built in a way that does not pose additional security risks in the community. They should protect and promote pollinators that benefit adjacent cropland, and they should guard against damage from storm water runoff through the area.
The Boyle County Fiscal Court has ordered a moratorium on solar farm development through May 1, giving officials here time to adopt countywide regulations. Planning and Zoning Director Steve Hunter has said the draft rules that he is preparing will be limited to addressing siting issues. This means any language that addresses quality-of-life issues will have to be proposed and approved by either appointed members of the Planning and Zoning Commission, or by elected officials in Boyle County.
Counties elsewhere have already taken such action. Nearly two years ago, for example, commissioners in Randolph County, Indiana, unanimously adopted a solar energy ordinance that included land stewardship requirements ahead of construction of the state’s largest solar farm on more than 1,400 acres. The developer of the $242 million project not only welcomed the ordinance, but has worked with Walmart on more than 50 projects around the country in which they have made land stewardship commitments on solar projects.
Clearly, solar farms can be built without overlooking a community’s agricultural, environmental, security, or quality-of-life concerns. In fact, numerous studies indicate that addressing such concerns can benefit both communities AND solar developers.
For that reason, we the undersigned urge zoning officials and the lawmaking bodies in Boyle County to include such language in the solar power regulations they consider in coming weeks. We would like language included that requires the following:
- Alternatives to “industrial” zoning, which can make it difficult for land to ever again be used for agriculture, i.e., requiring a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) from planning and zoning boards.
- Performance bonds to ensure proper cleanup and disposal of materials when a company fails or its facility has reached the end of its useful life
- Environmental protection and mitigation regarding run-off of silt and other pollutants during construction or during service
- Plantings under and around panels that attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies
- Security requirements such as fencing to prevent looting and vandalism of the site and to prevent accidents to unauthorized visitors
- Proper disposal of solar panels if damaged or rendered unusable
- Minimal lighting to prevent light pollution for neighbors, farm animals, and wildlife.