9/8/2018 10:26:00 AM
Jenny McNeece, Vincennes Sun-Commercial Assistant Editor
Producers of solar energy continue to find Knox County appealing, Kent Utt, president of the Knox County Development Corp., told his board of directors on Friday.
Utt said during the board's regular monthly meeting, held at Vincennes University's Isaac K. Beckes Student Union, that he will host yet another meeting next week — the fifth, to be exact — with officials from Tenaska, a solar energy company based in Nebraska.
Utt has been working with Tenaska over the last several months to help them locate as many as 1,500 contiguous acres to either purchase or lease for the development of a solar farm.
“They've realized they need even more land, so I've gone and met with another farmer that owns ground adjacent to the ground they were already interested in,” Utt said. “We had a good visit, and (Tenaska) will be back in town next week.”
Utt isn't yet sure how it will all play out, but he is hopeful that Knox County may soon be home to its first solar farm.
“It's looking like this could move forward,” he said.
Utt said he also recently met representatives of another solar company, Origis Energy in Miami, Florida, and they, too, have paid a visit to Knox County in search of solar farm-appropriate ground.
“The way they've explained it to me is that our climate here is just right for a solar farm,” Utt said. “The amount of sun we receive in a day, the elevation, or really lack thereof, we just have a lot of that flat, sunny land they need.”
The Indianapolis Airport Authority currently operates one of the largest airport solar panel farms in the country. The farm was completed years ago then nearly doubled in size in 2014 to 76,000 solar panels, generating 31 million kilowatt hours, enough to power 3,200 average U.S. homes, according to a report in the Indianapolis Star.
Vectren Corp. announced early this year that it was developing two solar farms in the Evansville area, according to a report by the Associated Press. One is adjacent to Evansville's Oak Cemetery and another is located near North Junior-Senior High School.
Together they are expected to produce 4 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 600 homes.
Vectren, too, announced plans in March for a 50-megawatt solar farm to be built in Spencer County.
Situated near Troy, it will consist of about 150,000 solar panels, according to a report in the Evansville Courier & Press.
Solar farms continue to pop up across the Hoosier state, but southwest Indiana isn't home to a lot of alternative energy sources, which makes it appealing to companies searching for a place on the grid, Utt said.
Duke Energy is developing a 17-MW solar plant at the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center, and UDWI REMC and Daviess-Martin REMC along with Hoosier Energy REC have a 1-MW “solar array” along Intestate 69 sough of Bloomfield.
According to the state, Indiana ranks 23rd among the 50 states in solar power with almost 300 MW of generation. That equals almost $475 million in investment providing almost 2,800 jobs.
Over the next five years, again according to the state, another 525 MW of solar power is expected to be added.
These solar farms would bring a generous, short-term contribution to Knox County in that they would provide a lot of construction jobs up front, Utt stated. When completed, however, solar farms typically only employ 4-5 people full-time.
But they do often represent $150 million in capital investment, which would bolster local property tax revenue as solar farms are taxed at a higher rate than agricultural land, Utt said.
“It would just really help with our overall property tax base,” he said.