Nearly a month after the full proposal was released, the Franklin County Fiscal Court heard a presentation Thursday regarding a proposed large-scale solar development that would supply electricity for city and county government buildings as well as local public schools.
The consensus of court members was that they would wait for a report from a consultant hired by the Frankfort Plant Board (FPB) to fully evaluate the proposal, though some expressed strong support and several had questions about its implementation. The Plant Board committed to pay $22,500 for that report, which FPB representatives have said will be available prior to their April 20 meeting.
Authored by Andy McDonald and Walt Baldwin, a former FPB vice chair, the proposal is for a 150-acre, 20 megawatt (MW) solar facility to be built in the county. The facility would be funded by a private developer at no cost to local government entities — the City of Frankfort, Franklin County Fiscal Court, Frankfort Independent Schools and Franklin County Schools — which would use the power it generated.
Baldwin and McDonald estimated that the city, county and school systems would save $1.2 million if the proposal is implemented, but that FPB would lose about $800,000 in revenue. They have described the shortfall, however, as something of an “insurance policy” against upcoming changes in U.S. power policy.
Magistrate Scotty Tracy said he’s fielded some positive comments but also some constituent concerns about how FPB would be able to handle the revenue shortfall.
“I think the last thing that we need to do is them (FPB) is try to make up that revenue by spreading it out in other services that would fall on the backs of a lot of low-income or moderate-income (people),” he said.
McDonald argued that the revenue loss wouldn’t have to require the utility — whose budget hovers around $100 million — to raise any rates.
“The Plant Board is very financially healthy,” McDonald said. “There’s nothing that says they would have to raise customers’ rates to make up for that $800,000. It’s a judgment, just as you all have judgment over the county’s budget — but it’s a legitimate question that needs to be discussed.”
Baldwin added that there is nothing in his and McDonald’s proposal that requires a rate increase for FPB’s customers. He also said that more savings would be possible if President Joe Biden’s administration enacted a carbon cost.
Magistrate Sherry Sebastian echoed some of Tracy’s points, saying that an “overwhelming number” of her constituents were worried about what effect the proposal would have on their personal finances.
Magistrate J.W. Blackburn wondered how the lost $800,000 in revenue might affect FPB workers’ pay.
“I’m intrigued, but at the same time I’d like to know a lot more,” Blackburn said.
Magistrate Lambert Moore and Judge-Executive Huston Wells mentioned that some constituents might be concerned about the aesthetics of such a facility. Moore also wondered about similar projects in the area; McDonald pointed to a larger solar project planned for the similarly sized community of Henderson in western Kentucky, as well as Cincinnati’s plans to increase its solar energy use.
Two magistrates expressed strong support for the proposal: Michael Mueller and Marti Booth.
Mueller described the project as cutting-edge for the area, and stressed that FPB’s status as a municipal utility could make it possible.
“I would love to be part of this project at the forefront of the state of Kentucky,” Mueller said. “I think this would be a huge thing for our community. I can’t see why the plant board, being a municipality, wouldn’t be on board once we sit around the table and talk about it.”
Booth said her constituents found the potential for reducing the area’s carbon output enticing.
“Most of them do not realize that it is a possibility, but all the comments I’ve heard have had a real excitement about cutting down carbon in our atmosphere,” Booth said. “For that reason alone, I’m very very excited by this project.”
Wells closed the meeting by commending Baldwin and McDonald for their efforts, calling the presentation “the beginning of the process.”
“As you can see, we’re pretty diverse in what our thoughts are and what our constituents are saying,” Wells said. “This was the beginning of this process. We’re a long ways from the end of it, but you started the conversation and we’re appreciative of that.”