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Industrial Solar in Lexington, Kentucky

Two different utility-scale, ground-mounted solar projects have recently been proposed for development within the Rural Service Area of Lexington-Fayette County.

  • Details: Combined, these two proposals amount to over 1,000 acres of nationally recognized Prime Farmland for solar development, located in eastern Fayette County along the I-64 and Winchester Rd. corridors.

Here’s What We Think

Fayette Alliance is supportive of renewable energy development, particularly solar on rooftops, brownfield sites, industrial areas, and already built environments.

  • However: We have serious concerns about the impacts of locating large-scale solar facilities on Lexington-Fayette County’s world-renowned soils. In addition to the environmental impacts and the loss of prime, nationally significant farmland, we are concerned about the precedent set by permitting these types of commercial and industrial uses in our agricultural zones.

Large-scale solar development is a complex land-use issue that must be thoughtfully addressed and informed by research and analysis.

  • Important: It’s critical that our community efforts for sustainability don’t come at the expense of the land that makes Lexington so unique.

Proposal No. 1: Silicon Ranch

Silicon Ranch, a Nashville-based and privately-owned solar company, has proposed a Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment (ZOTA) that permits different scales of solar development throughout Lexington-Fayette County, including in the Agricultural-Rural zone.

  • Details: The ZOTA was proposed to accommodate an approximately 800-acre solar farm off Haley Road in the Agricultural-Rural zone, made up of multiple tracts of land.
  • Need-to-know: This ZOTA change would apply county-wide, allowing for more developments of this type in the Agricultural-Rural zone.
  • Fact: In 2018, Shell became the largest shareholder in Silicon Ranch.

Next Steps

Lexington’s Planning Commission has postponed the approval of this ZOTA until more research can be conducted and more in-depth conversations can be had about the implications of allowing industrial solar developments in the Rural Service Area.

Read the Lexington-Herald Leader’s Solar Article on Silicon Ranch

View Silicon Ranch’s Website

View Silicon Ranch Project Photos


Proposal No. 2: Eastern Kentucky Power Cooperative

Eastern Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC) has proposed a 387-acre utility-scale solar development in the Agricultural-Rural zone on Winchester Road.

  • Details: This project is not governed by local planning and zoning.
  • Important: It does not require approval by the Planning Commission or Urban County Council. Instead, it is only subject to the Kentucky Public Service Commission application process and requirements.
  • Dig Deeper: EKPC is a not-for-profit utility company headquartered in Winchester, KY — owned and governed by 16 electricity distribution co-ops, that’s why they are not governed locally.

Read the Full Project Proposal

Read the Lexington-Herald Leader’s Article on EKPC


About the Soil

The United States Department of Agriculture defines “Prime Farmland” as such:

Land that has the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food. It has the combination of soil properties, growing season, and moisture supply needed to produce sustained high yields of crops economically if it is treated and managed according to acceptable farming methods.”

Using the USDA’s Web Soil Survey map, we attempted to determine approximately how much of the land proposed for solar development was categorized as “Prime Farmland.”

Process

  1. We took a map of Lexington-Fayette County’s PDR-protected farms.
  2. We overlaid maps of the proposed solar development sites.
  3. We then used those maps to identify the soil quality of the proposed areas.

By our calculations, approximately 98.06% of the soil proposed for solar farming is considered “Prime Farmland” or of “statewide significance” by the United States Department of Agriculture.

  • Need-to-know: None of the proposed acreage is used for equine operations.
  • Consider: The soil that’s at risk is rich, fertile, and irreplaceable; capable of producing food for generations to come.

Full Details

We compiled our research and other soil-related information into short, easy-to-read PDF packets — one each for the proposed industrial solar projects. The studies include:

  • maps of the proposed solar sites
  • soil maps of the land proposed for development
  • breakdowns of the soil types, including acreage and classification
  • and more.

Click the buttons below to explore each soil study in detail.

Soil Study: Eastern Kentucky Power Cooperative

Soil Study: Silicon Ranch


Public Comment

Your voice on the important topic of industrial solar in our agricultural areas is critical to the future of Lexington-Fayette County. We encourage you to contact the appropriate entities and express your concerns in your own words. If you’d like to submit a public comment on either of the two proposed industrial solar projects, follow the steps below.

Eastern Kentucky Power Cooperative 

Without comments from the public, the Public Service Commission will only hear the utility and business arguments in favor of their proposal. The Commission wants to learn how this proposal will impact your community, and you don’t have to be an expert for your thoughts to matter in this case.

Option 1: Click the button below to submit your comment through the Public Service Commission’s website.

Submit Public Comment

Option 2: Write an Email

  1. Email: psc.comment@ky.gov
  2. In the subject line of your email, include the case number  — No. 2024-000129.
  3. In the body of your email, include the case number, your full name, phone number, and address.

Silicon Ranch

  • Important: A public hearing on this ZOTA is not currently scheduled.

Even before a public hearing is scheduled, we encourage you to contact the LFUCG Planning Staff and Planning Commission. Here’s how:

  1. Email: PlanningMailbox@lexingtonky.gov
  2. In the subject line of your email, include the following —  Solar Energy Systems ZOTA 24-00003
  3. In the body of your email, include your name, address, phone number, and comments.

If you have any questions about how to weigh in on either of the two proposed industrial solar developments, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Brittany@fayettealliance.com.


Updates

June 17, 2024

Eastern Kentucky Power Cooperative – Public Service Commission Case

Eastern Kentucky Power Cooperative’s proposal for an industrial solar development on approximately 400 acres on Winchester Road is moving through the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC), which governs utility services throughout the state.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and Fayette Alliance both filed to intervene in the case as interested parties and were granted intervenor status by the PSC. Currently, both entities can request information from EKPC and then testify to the PSC on relevant issues by July 19th.

Read the Press Release About This Filing

  • Details: EKPC is based in neighboring Winchester, Clark County, Kentucky, and is a cooperative with 16 members who benefit from the energy their facilities generate. None of those members are located in Fayette County, and the service to Fayette County residents is very limited, but the exact number is unknown. 
  • Need to know: Because it is a public utility, EKPC is not subject to local planning and zoning, although local policies are a consideration during decision-making.

EKPC’s Fayette County proposal is Case No. 2024-00129 at the Public Service Commission, and the case filings can be found below.

View EKPC’s Case Filings

Read the Press Release About This Filing

Silicon Ranch – LFUCG Planning Commission

Silicon Ranch’s proposal for a Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment (ZOTA) to permit industrial-scale solar facilities in the agricultural zones of Lexington-Fayette County is moving through the Planning Commission. The proposed policies are currently being evaluated by the Planning Staff.

  • Need to know: As proposed by the developer, the ZOTA would permit industrial solar farms in any agricultural zone with a conditional use permit, to be evaluated by the Board of Adjustment under limited conditions. 

Fayette Alliance supports a community conversation and evaluation of how and where industrial solar development is appropriate to best serve Lexington-Fayette County. Regulating solar and renewable energy development is important for a sustainable future, but where these facilities are permitted to be located and how they are regulated is critically important.

  • We think: As an industrial use, industrial solar generation facilities are not appropriate in the Rural Service Area or any of our agricultural zones.

Our community should address how and where we can support solar energy facilities without displacing our most valuable and finite resource that is unique in the country and the world — our prime soils and soils of statewide significance.  Appropriate siting for industrial-scale solar farms raises complex and technical questions about the way our community uses its land, and should involve dedicated research, analysis, and community involvement. 


Solar Spotlight

As we mentioned, Fayette Alliance is supportive of renewable energy development, particularly solar on rooftops, brownfield sites, industrial areas, and already built environments.
 
We don’t believe destroying prime, irreplaceable farmland to create industrial-scale solar farms is the best path forward for Lexington-Fayette County.
 
Cities, universities, and commercial businesses across the US have found creative ways to become more energy-efficient and reduce their carbon footprints.
 
We should look to these community projects for inspiration before we commit to sacrificing the land that makes our region so unique — that’s why we created our solar spotlight series, to highlight other communities that are working towards creating cleaner, more energy-efficient communities.
  • Arizona State University | ASU’s comprehensive solar program produces over 53MWdc of energy — enough to power approximately 30,000 single-family homes. The university utilizes both on-site and off-site solar installations to generate this energy. The on-site component of its solar initiative extends to four different campuses and the ASU Research Park, totaling approximately 80,000 solar panels.
  • Rutgers University | Rutgers University has installed solar panels in 16 different parking lots across its facilities. These multifunctional installments generate approximately 3% of the university’s total energy consumption, and also provide much-needed shade to faculty, staff, and students in the summer months. Clemson University and Michigan State University have begun construction of similar projects on their campuses. complete a similar project on its campus.
  • Santa Cruz, CA | This California city incentivizes its commercial businesses to invest in solar through rebates, free energy audits, and a city-wide Green Business Certification program.
    • It’s important to note that Lexington incentivizes residential solar investment through its Solarize Lexington program. However, commercial businesses often have more land and square footage to accommodate solar infrastructure.
  • San Antonio | Last year, in September of 2023, the city of San Antonio, Texas allocated $30 million to construct solar panels on 42 different city-owned properties. Solar panels will be installed on rooftops, in parking lots, and in city parks to create shade canopies for residents. In total, this project will offset an estimated 11% of the City’s electricity consumption from its buildings.
  • Ubiquitous Energy | This US-based company has invented a thin coating that turns windows into transparent solar panels. The company estimated that utilizing this new coating would be able to provide approximately 30% of a building’s energy needs.
  • The Netherlands | In 2018, the Netherlands built solar bike paths spanning 1,000 square meters. These are not simply bike paths with solar panels placed alongside, rather, the paths themselves contain solar cells that are protected by a multilayer of resin, and the electrical architecture has been designed to reduce the amount of wiring.
  • Belgium | A two-mile-long rail tunnel has been outfitted with 16,000 solar panels in Belgium, providing enough energy to power all of the trains in the country for one full day.
  • India | The Cochin International Airport in India is the world’s first airport fully powered by solar energy, winning the “Champions of the Earth” award instituted by the United Nations in 2018. To achieve this, the airport utilizes 46,150 solar panels laid across 45 acres near its cargo complex.
  • Indiana | Following suit to India’s airport initiative, however much closer to home, the Evansville, Indiana Regional Airport has installed solar canopies throughout its parking. This solar installment is the Midwest’s largest airport solar canopy, and the second largest in the US. This initiative generates enough energy to offset 50% of the airport’s power.

Press and Media

WEKU | May 23, 2024

Forward Kentucky | May 23, 2024

FOX56 | Solar Farm Info Session | July 9, 2024

WEKU | Solar Farm Info Session | July 9, 2024

WKYT | Solar Farm Info Session | July 9, 2024