Utility-scale solar booming in Kentucky

Nov 22, 2021

Credit Duke Energy

Merchant solar companies looking to harness the power of the sun are increasingly turning to Kentucky. Over the last two years, utility regulators have approved 13 utility-scale solar projects across the state.

These so-called merchant solar companies build solar arrays to sell electricity in wholesale markets or directly to companies looking for renewable energy sources. 

Utility regulators on the Kentucky State Board on Electric Generation and Transmission Siting approved four of these projects in the last month alone — the latest of which is planning to build a 200 megawatt solar project on a reclaimed coal mine in Martin County. 

Kentucky Solar Industries Association President Matt Partymiller said the costs to build solar projects has fallen dramatically over the last decade, from about $6 per watt to about $1 per watt.

“It’s made solar the most cost-competitive new power source for most of the U.S., so now utility-scale solar plants are getting built,” Partymiller said. “All our neighboring states are seeing the same thing: Ohio, Indiana, even West Virginia.”

To date, the siting board has received 29 applications for utility-scale solar. 13 have received approval, nine more have filed applications and another seven have filed notices of intent, Public Service Commission spokesperson Karen Wilson wrote in an email.

Receiving approval from the siting board is an important step, but it’s still only one step in the process. Even with financing, board approval and transmission agreements in place, merchant solar companies might still need approval from local planning and zoning boards.

In some cases, merchant solar companies have faced local opposition, citing out-of-state-interests, dubious environmental claims and subsidies contributing to unfair competition with local fossil fuel generation. 

Major companies investing in Kentucky, like Ford and Toyota, are increasingly turning toward renewable energy sources to meet their climate goals. Partymiller said utility-scale solar can help keep Kentucky competitive while bolstering employment and tax revenues for local governments. 

“So there are entities out there that want to purchase this power and those entities are helping spur these developments,” Partymiller said.