Louisville Gas and Electric is seeking approval from state utility regulators to build the largest solar array in Kentucky.
If approved, the 100-megawatt plant in Hardin County would be one of at least four utility-scale projects coming online in Kentucky in the next three years. The project would be 10 times larger than the current title holder, a 10-megawatt LG&E facility near Harrodsburg.
The push for more solar in Kentucky follows a countrywide trend as utilities increasingly turn to renewables for new electricity generation.
The costs to build large-scale solar have significantly declined over the last decade. Larger, industrial customers are also asking for more renewable capacity to meet their own sustainability goals.
“I think we are really pleased to be able to offer these options to our customers and having a mix of variable generation and reliable generation makes this work,” said Chris Whelan, LG&E spokeswoman.
LG&E is asking the Kentucky Public Service Commission to approve three contracts to secure the project.
Fifty percent of the solar energy would be used to power the world’s largest Toyota manufacturing plant in Georgetown. The company aims to get to zero carbon dioxide emissions at all of its plants by 2050.
Another 25 percent of the project’s solar energy would go toward a Dow plant in Carrolton and the rest would be used to serve residential customers under the utility’s solar share program, according to a press release.
The solar share program allows ratepayers to purchase solar energy to power their homes and businesses for an additional cost.
The planned facility would only make up a fraction of LG&E’s total energy capacity, most of which still comes from burning coal and natural gas.
LG&E has no intention of shutting those plants down anytime soon despite scientists’ warnings that the world needs to reduce carbon emissions as fast as possible to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
The stated goal of parent company PPL Corporation is to cut the company’s carbon dioxide emissions 70 percent from 2010 levels by 2050.
LG&E’s has said its four coal-fired power plants still have remaining lifespans of about 30 years.
Whelan said solar power is still too intermittent to be a reliable energy source like coal and natural gas.
“At this stage in where we are, we can’t go solely to renewable because it’s so variable,” she said. “We see that through our Brown solar plant that we launched in 2016.”
At the EW Brown plant, LG&E is working on a pilot project to improve the reliability of renewable sources. There, workers are testing battery storage technology with the goal of providing consist power even when the sun isn’t shining, Whelan said.
Three other utility-solar projects are expected to come online in the Commonwealth by 2023.
BayWa r.e. Solar Projects is planning an 80 megawatt solar field in Harrison County for 2021 while the cities of Owensboro and Henderson are looking at completing their own solar projects in 2022 and 2023.