Waves of crops that now rest upon hundreds of acres of land in Cecilia soon could become home to a source for solar energy.
Property owned by Clayton, Geraldine and Kerby Grey and Eugene and Dorothy Hill southwest of Cecilia along Hardinsburg Road, South Black Branch and Hansborough Roads – property that covers, 1,072 acres – will be up for discussion Tuesday afternoon at a Hardin County Planning and Development Commission public hearing on the third floor of the Hardin County Government Building.
The commission will consider requests by the families and ibV Solar Energy of Miami to change the zoning map from Rural Residential Zone to an Agricultural zone with a conditional use permit to allow for a solar farm over 11 tracts of land.
Land owners lease their land for the solar use and the energy is then provided to utility companies. In this project – Rhudes Creek Solar LLC – the power will go to Kentucky Utilities and LG&E at Bacon Creek Road and Ring Road, Hardin County Planning Commission Director Adam King said.
King said the Greys and Hills have signed leases with ibV, which then applied for the zoning change to accommodate the solar farm.
“In 2009 we developed an agricultural zone and it preserved and protected and allows you to do a lot of commercial stuff kind of related to agricultural,” King said. “The thought was that this would be a newer form of agriculture, a different form of agriculture. Where there have been crops you’re harnessing the power of the sun, I guess, to produce energy.”
David Miller, who has lived in the area his entire life and owns about 50 acres along Hansborough Road, said he’s not against solar energy. He is opposed to a project of this magnitude, one he says would equal the size of 1,200 football fields.
“I’m not opposed to solar energy; solar energy is wonderful,” said Miller, 70. “It’s the scope of the project and how detrimental it could be. Because they are solar fields, there will be water runoff and there are a lot of streams here and the water has to go somewhere.”
Miller also mentioned the area has karst topography which could lend to sinkholes developing.
He said he was approached about leasing his land and he quickly ended the conversation, even before it reached a point of how much money he would be offered per acre.
For land owners, leasing land can be a long-term financial windfall with leases running for decades.
According to a recent article in Farm World Magazine, “… solar companies pay anywhere from $800 to $1,100 per acre per year to lease farmland in Indiana. That compares with the $200 an acre many landowners receive to rent their land to farmers.”
Like many areas and several states, solar energy has become big business for land owners.
“We have been meeting with a ton of solar developers interested in this area,” King said. “ibV was probably first. We spoke to them back in July of 2019. They made application in October of 2020.”
King said a solar farm wasn’t a utility listed in the county’s zoning ordinance.
“In November of 2020, the planning commission took action on the non-listed use of the solar farm and determined that it was a conditional use but only within the agricultural zone or the industrial zone,” he said. “Hardin County is unique in that when we got zoning in 1995, no property was zoned agriculture and it got zoned residential. At the time, the planning commission wanted every farmer to be able to subdivide their farm as a means to their retirement.”
There will be two separate hearings during Tuesday’s meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. The first relates to the zone change and then the conditional use permit.
The county has made the public aware of the meeting in many ways, including posting nine signs on the sites and publishing the legal required notice in The News-Enterprise.
“All adjoining owners were notified and all property owners within 1,200 feet of road frontage were contacted by Hardin County Government with a first-class mailing,” King said.
There are about 75 property owners either with adjoining land or within the 1,200-foot area, he said.
Miller said he plans to attend the hearing.
“It’s a loss of valuable farm land that we’re going to need,” he said.
King said Tuesday’s hearing could be a barometer for other solar companies that have expressed an interest in Hardin County farm land. He said county government has heard from at least “eight different developers looking in the area.”
“I think several of them are just kind of watching and then waiting and seeing, and seeing how all this plays out,” King said. “They’re all unique in that they’re all on different properties – every piece of property is unique.”
King said the commission can make a decision Tuesday, table it and take a site visit, for instance, or something could be brought up at the hearing that would require additional input and research before its members vote.