The Russell County Fiscal Court took one of the first steps toward the beginning of a solar project in Russell County that could pay big dividends in the future.
The court approved a resolution to move forward to let Carolina Solar Energy, a company out of Durham, North Carolina, advertise to sell revenue-sharing bonds for a solar project taking place in the Mt. Olive Creek area of the county.
The project plans to utilize roughly 440 acres of farmland off Sano Road. Solar panels are going to be placed on the land to gather energy that can be sold back to power providers like East Kentucky Power Cooperative to generate electricity.
This 60MW facility will generate enough electricity to power approximately 15,000 homes. The solar farm will pay significant county taxes over the course of the project lifetime, with little to no expenditure from the county.
Judge Executive Gary Robertson said he expects it’ll be about a year before the project really takes off. Carolina Solar Energy is also working on some similar projects in Green and Taylor counties, Robertson said. Carolina Solar says the project is expected to be operational by 2023.
“We’ve all been working with them on this together to make sure our resolutions are worded properly,” Robertson said.
The project will take between 8-12 months to build and involves a $90 million investment. The total investment includes land acquisition, site preparation, solar panel and electrical equipment installation, landscaping, and security fencing.
ENGIE North America, likely to be the owner of the project, will hire a construction company and it is estimated that it will require up to 150 workers over the 8-12 month time period, with a total expected payroll of $7.5 million.
ENGIE estimates that the average construction job on the project will pay $50,000 annually. It’s not known exactly how many construction jobs will be involved, as many subcontractors will be involved and each of those will make staffing decisions.
Robertson also noted that the new Lake Cumberland Regional College and Workforce Center will hopefully be able to train workers in areas such as solar energy as jobs in the field continue to grow and expand.
Carolina Solar Energy states that their goals are to reduce the cost of solar energy, increase the use of renewable energy, and bring economic development to underserved areas. This is done through the development of utility-scale photovoltaic solar energy projects.
“Solar gives back through the jobs and economic development created during the construction phase,” Carolina Solar CEO Carson Harkrader said. “Most of the jobs are things like installers or electricians, but there are also other roles like fencing contractors. As many local people are hired as possible. Obviously it’s better if people are based there in the local community. All of those workers and those that come in spend money at restaurants, on accommodations, and other local things.”
The company has projects in North Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky. They currently have more than 40 solar farms in operation in North Carolina.