Lawrence County, Big Sandy region should get in on ‘what’s hot’
…Others say why — I say why not? — Robert F. Kennedy
LOUISA, Ky. — Man, it’s hot. And it’s getting hotter every summer!
And as we wrote a few weeks back in the editorial section one of the best new businesses going on these days fits right in with that trend. Solar energy, both producing it and making the solar panels that catch the sun’s power are hot right now. Maybe it’s because I wrote about it being a good idea for Lawrence County and the rest of the mined out Big Sandy region to get in on the new solar industry growth, but it seems like there are more and more stories out there about it all the time.
I picked a few from just today’s statewide news feed from the Kentucky Press Association. Just from today there are three very good examples of what is going on in our state which currently uses coal (from other states and countries)and natural gas for most of our energy needs.
But ‘Things are a changin’ as Bob Dylan once wrote and sang.
And with the vast wastelands of stripped mountaintops and valley fills what better place to cover with solar panels since nothing much else will grow there anymore? There is plenty of labor available and students to train to make solar panels in small factories that could and should be located right here where the hills rise above the landscape and are excellent recepticles for the sunlight.
Granted, there is not as much money to be made in doing this as there was in digging and stripping coal out of our mountains, but there is a much better and longer future and we wouldn’t be poisoning the air with pollutants from the smoke stacks we have breathed from for a century now.
It is worth thinking about as many other Kentucky areas already are. Why should we spend state and federal monies on training our laid off miners for jobs that aren’t there like we have always done? These dollars have been mostly wasted because our workers always go back to coal mining when another cycle comes around and conversley there is nothing to train them for that currently exists as far as industry goes. They get trained and then move away.
The UK Community colleges in our area led by Dr. Davin Stephenson are preparing for a future not based on coal production — but instead on fiber optics that is an intergral part of the communications industry creating a giant highway through the mountains for high speed internet which will allow thousands of men and women to work from home on their computers and for technology companies that do not have major transportation needs to be created. A $127 million facility is already approved and nearing the building stage to train our miners and students in our high schools.
Why not couple this with another fast moving industry and build solar panels to use on our mine sites?
We have an econimic development department now, so maybe they could check it out.
Here are the three articles I mentioned in today’s Kentucky newspapers:
East Kentucky Power unveils plans for Clark solar facility
By Fred Petke
The Winchester Sun
East Kentucky Power Cooperative has filed an application with the Kentucky Public Service Commission to build a 60-acre solar energy facility in Clark County.
The proposal calls for the utility to install 32,000 photovoltaic panels on property next to its offices on U.S. 60, EKPC spokesman Kevin Osbourn said. Once complete, the panels could generate 8.5 megawatts of energy.
The estimated $17.7 million project could be completed in less than two years, pending PSC approval, Osbourn said.
“It will depend entirely on regulatory approval,” he said. “If it is approved, we hope to complete it by the end of next year.”
Osbourn called it one of the largest such projects in Kentucky, which would be visible from Interstate 64.
Funding is expected to come from New Clean Energy Renewable Energy Bonds with federal incentives to offset interest, the utility said in a statement.
Retail customers can receive credits on their monthly bills if they buy a $460 license for a portion of the solar facility’s generating capacity, Osbourn said. The licenses will be valid for 25 years, according to the utility.
Osbourn said the the program will be comparable to rooftop solar panels for customers.
The solar facility is also part of a plan to diversify its energy-generating capabilities as well as offer a renewable option for customers.
“Retail members of our owner-member co-ops will be able to voluntarily participate in a renewable energy program that is competitive with rooftop solar,” EKPC Vice President of Power Supply David Crews Sr. said in a statement.
While the facility is the first for EKPC, it is not the first in Kentucky.
Earlier this year, LG&E and Kentucky Utilities opened the E.W. Brown Solar Facility, a 10 megawatt, 50-acre solar site in Mercer County. That project, which became operational in June, will involve 44,600 panels. It was approved by the Kentucky PSC in December 2014.
The Mercer County site includes a hydroelectric plant, three coal-fired generating units and seven natural gas-fired turbines.
According to the Kentucky Solar Energy Society, Berea Utilities also opened a solar farm with 120 235-watt panels. Fort Knox also has a 10,000-panel, 2.1 megawatt solar facility.
Harrison County land being assessed by solar panels business
By Mary Meehan
Hundreds of acres in Harrison County are being assessed for what could be the largest solar farm in Kentucky.
Geenex, a solar company based in Charlotte, N.C., is looking at 600 to 1,000 acres, said Garnett Furnish, executive director of the Cynthiana/Harrison County Economic Development Association.
Founded in 2012, Geenex built its first project in Halifax County, N.C., in 2014.
Kentucky currently ranks 45th out of 50 states for use of solar and hydro power. Less than 1 percent of the nation’s solar and hydro power is generated in the commonwealth.
Company officials have been in the area surveying, and preliminary plans have been cleared by Harrison County’s planning zoning, Furnish said. The next step is a ruling by fiscal court.
The proposed $50-million solar farm could increase the area’s tax base if the land is taken out of agriculture use, Furnish explained. Commercial and industrial use are taxed at a higher rate, he said.
It’s unlikely that the company would add any substantial amount of jobs, but some workers may be needed to do basic maintenance on the panels, he added.
At the proposed size, the solar field will be by far the largest in Kentucky, said Donald Colliver, director of the Kentucky Industrial Assessment Center at University of Kentucky.
Kentucky’s current largest field is 50 acres in Mercer County with 44,600 panels, Colliver said. It became fully operational in June. A field the size proposed for Harrison County generates about half as much energy as a standard coal fire plant. The Berea Solar Farm has 246 panels. It opened in 2012.
Kentucky still ranks near the bottom of all states –– for all renewable energy production, at 2.4 percent, and solar is barely noticeable at less than 1 percent of all electricity consumed, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Geenex did not respond to the Herald-Leader’s request for comment.
Report calls for shut down of Owensboro power plant
By Steve Vied
Both units of the Elmer Smith Station coal-fired power plant owned by Owensboro Municipal Utilities should be retired sooner rather than later, and the utility should invest in renewable electricity generation. Converting the Smith plant to natural gas should also be avoided.
Those are the main recommendations coming out of an analysis of the Smith plant conducted by an organization dedicated to sustainable energy production and reducing dependence on coal. The study, produced by the Cleveland-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, was done at the request of the Ohio River Valley chapter of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.
Among other findings, the study written by IEEFA Director of Resource Planning David Schlissel, claim that the Smith plant is long past its prime and will continue to be a financial drag on OMU customers, who are being forced to subsidize the sale of energy produced at the plant and sold on the open wholesale market. It encourages OMU to follow through on its stated plans to shut down Elmer Smith Unit 1 in 2019 and urges closure of Unit 2 by 2022 at the latest.
“Tens of millions of dollars of new investment will be needed to keep the plant running and, using the utility’s own analyses, shows that retail rates will increase by 20 percent by 2018 and 80 percent by 2025 if both units at Elmer Smith are not retired,” Schlissel said.
The analysis was presented to the Owensboro City Commission at its meeting on Tuesday. It calls for OMU to avoid any commitment now or in the near future to building a new new natural gas plant, or investing in one in the face of declining costs for wind and solar resources. Purchasing power from the wholesale market, including power produced by natural gas, is an option OMU should consider, the study said.
The study also recommends that OMU analyze the costs and benefits of investing in solar and wind capacity.
“Our findings show that the facility is long past its prime, that it cannot compete with other sources of generation, and that, as a result, ratepayers In Owensboro are needlessly subsiding a large portion of the cost of the power from Elmer Smith that is being sold to wholesale customers,” Schlissel wrote.
Aloma Dew, a Sierra Club representative and local environmentalist, read a statement to the City Commission that was prepared by Mary Cupp of the Pennyrile chapter of the Sierra Club that calls on OMU to “Make wiser decisions to solve the serious problems caused by our current way of generating energy.”
“Owensboro residents cannot be expected to continue to shoulder the high economic costs of operating these antiquated coal-fired power plants that one, rely on an unstable fuel supply; two, lead to poor health and high health care costs due to pollution of air and water from its extraction and combustion; and three, have residential customers subsidize the cost of electric power sold below production cost to wholesale customers outside the Owensboro market,” Dew said.
This article contains some opinions of its author…