It was a wisdom-of-Solomon moment at the latest meeting of the Hardin County Planning and Development Commission. Typically gathering in relative privacy to review and implement land-use policies, the members were faced recently with a packed house and conflicting priorities.
In one corner were families with an opportunity to lease property southwest of Cecilia and a business promoting the value of clean energy through solar power. The others were mostly neighbors concerned about water runoff and related changes to the rural landscape if a 750-acre solar farm was built on the 11 tracts comprising 1,072 acres.
According to a representative of ibV Solar Energy, their project would create an estimated 240 full-time jobs plus related employment during the construction phase and indirectly establish 72 other jobs. The total estimated payroll of $15.2 million is a big jump for the parcels, which now annually generate $6,533 in property taxes.
But neighbors worried about stormwater runoff and possible flooding issues plus the karst nature of the land, which makes it prone to sinkholes. Their concerns ranged from traffic increases to disrupting the migratory patterns of sandhill cranes.
Some of those topics are concerns directly related to the planning commission’s tasks. Others are commonly cited in development disputes that fall in the “not-in-my-backyard” category.
In general, things such as job creation, business investment and clean energy are popular with the public. But the noise, disruption and change associated with the project can alter the nature of the farm community along Ky. 86 and nearby South Black Branch and Hansborough roads.
With a pending lease in hand, the property owners wanted the land rezoned from Rural Residential to Agricultural plus a conditional use permit to allow for the solar farm.
As Daniel Feeser, who lives across the street from the proposed solar site pointed out, the use of the term “solar farm” is not necessarily an agricultural pursuit.
He said “in actuality it is a 100 mega-watt power plant requiring 2.1 million square feet of panel surface. Let’s call it what it is, an electrical power plant and, as a manufacturing site, this project should be placed in an industrial zoned area.”
In the end, like Solomon’s recommendation to “split the baby,” the commission’s decision was unexpected. They voted to allow the zone change but rejected the conditional use permit on a 3-1 vote – effectively blocking the solar farm.
This is a complicated and emotional subject. Right and wrong is painted in definite shades of gray. Determining the greater good and applying policies and laws appropriately can be quite challenging.
One thing is clear. It’s remarkable the community consistently can find willing volunteers to sit in these commission seats. It’s not an enviable decision-making task.
This editorial reflects a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.