We commend the Frankfort Plant Board’s decision to hire an outside consultant to assess a proposal for a 150-acre, 20 megawatt (MW) solar facility, which would be funded by a private developer at no cost to the local government entities — City of Frankfort, Franklin County Fiscal Court, Frankfort Independent Schools and Franklin County Schools — that would use the power it generated.

The plant board is paying $22,500 for the report from Burns & McDonnell, an engineering, consulting and architecture firm based in Kansas City.

According to estimates, the solar project proposal — which was drafted by former FPB Vice Chair Walt Baldwin, whose term ended in 2019 after then-Mayor Bill May failed to reappoint him to the municipal utility board, and Andy McDonald, a vocal clean energy advocate and owner of Apogee Climate & Energy Transitions — would save the four local government entities approximately $1.2 million yearly but cost the plant board $800,000 in revenue.

McDonald termed the $800,000 a sort of “insurance policy” against future modifications in the country’s power policy that could favor solar energy.

On the other hand, the city, county and both local school districts would receive cheaper power, save more than $25 million under their estimate Purchase Power Agreement rate and be involved in an ecofriendly project that invests in the future, project backers say.

While we will reserve judgment on the project until the FPB consultant’s report is complete, we, like FPB board member Kathryn Dutton-Mitchell, commend McDonald and Baldwin for their forward thinking and for effective efforts to date to explain the project to government stakeholders and to the community at large.

“I applaud the vision of any project that would move Frankfort toward lowering its carbon footprint,” she said. “I appreciate the expertise and time that Andy McDonald and Walt Baldwin took in presenting this project … . I do want to appreciate their efforts and hope that they’ll be patient while we consider it.”

It should also be noted that it is rare for citizens to work on and propose “big idea” plans such as this “in their spare time.” Imagine what our community could achieve if more citizens were willing to use their expertise for the greater good of Frankfort and Franklin County.

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