For the past six years, renewable energy companies have been approaching Kentucky farmers about leasing their land for three solar-power projects in different stages of development. "Solar energy represents a change for a commonwealth whose economic prospects have long been tied to labor-intensive industries like coal and tobacco. But that change is coming, through tax credits, infrastructure deals and climate change incentives," Melina Walling reports for Louisville's Courier Journal.
But not everyone is on board with the prospect. "As the projects move forward and more people learn about them, questions tend to arise — questions that the solar companies, which do not have a permanent liaison in this rural area, are not always on hand to answer," Walling reports.
That often leaves farmers who have signed up for solar leasing to educate and convince their neighbors that such a venture is legitimate—sometimes a difficult job when the projects aren't yet live and bringing in profits for farmers. But it's more than a question of whether solar power is viable. Many farmers feel that leasing their land is tantamount to losing it, Walling reports. Others just don't know enough about the process and say they need more input.
Solar is a winning idea, arguies Jim Waters of free-market think tank Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions. In a Courier Journal op-ed, he writes: "By embracing such plentiful but inexpensive power, Kentucky would have a clean, renewable supply of energy, allowing it to continue – as it’s did with coal – boasting some of the nation’s cheapest energy rates, keeping utility costs low and rendering ineffective calls for economically harmful policies like raising gas taxes for needed revenues."
However, the notion brings iffy rewards and needs more study, writes Will Mayer, the executive director of Clark Coalition, a land-use advocacy organization. "While the developers are quick to paint a picture of struggling farmers needing the income (that supposedly only solar can provide) the truth is somewhat more complex. In fact, many of those under-contract for solar development are absentee landowners, not farmers. By contrast, many of the farmers who actually make their living from the land will invariably suffer from the loss of their farm leases," Mayer writes in an op-ed for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "The uneven consequences of large solar facilities are further brought to focus by their impact on adjoining property owners. Contrary to developers’ claims that their facilities do not negatively affect nearby properties, independent valuation studies demonstrate they cause a decline of up to 30%. Industrial solar proposals are neither uniformly bad nor good – rather they are complex and demand a transparent analysis to ensure that they are sited appropriately, and that the associated benefits do not disproportionately accrue to the developers and outside interests while the real financial and environmental costs are borne by Kentuckians."