After years of development, the Ashwood Solar I project is entering the final phases of preparation before the installation of 200,000 solar panels in Lyon County.
Completing construction of the highly anticipated power plant is expected in little more than two years. By late 2022, some 86 megawatts of electricity are expected to beam out from those panels on that will sit on 800 acres of Lyon County. The planned complex is expected to be able to light up 14,000 homes.
The facility will sit on land adjacent to and in close proximity to the Western Kentucky Correctional Complex near Fredonia. RWE Renewables, the parent company, currently is working to complete the permitting process before beginning construction, according to Craig Sundstrom, RWE’s director of government and regulatory affairs.
The company has developed and constructed more than 300 large-scale, solar photovoltaic plants worldwide. Photovoltaic, or PV, modules convert light directly into electricity. It has signed wholesale contracts to sell the electricity the Lyon County project generates to the Kentucky Municipal Energy Agency and Owensboro Municipal Utilities.
A combination of factors makes Lyon County ideal, RWE officials say. That includes access to Louisville Gas and Electric Company overhead power lines, from that Louisville-based, regulated electric and natural gas utility, serving Louisville and 16 surrounding counties. Lexington-based Kentucky Utilities is provides electricity to 77 Kentucky counties.
Other positive factors include relatively flat, open land along U.S. Highway 641 and landowners eager to participate. The project also was developed specifically to address the increase in regional demand for renewables from local municipal power companies.
“The declining costs and improved efficiencies of solar technology have made it much more cost-competitive with conventional fuels, which means solar development in new locations is becoming increasingly possible,” Sundstrom said. “This shift gives us the opportunity to deliver clean, emissions-free power and generate new local revenue in areas like western Kentucky at rates competitive with other traditional types of electric generation.”
Amanda Davenport since 2018 has served as executive director of the Lake Barkley Partnership, a regional economic development organization for Lyon, Caldwell, Livingston, and Crittenden counties.
“It’s very interesting to see the allure of these companies coming into western Kentucky and it’s been a learning experience, understanding what is driving the market on having the companies invest here,” she said. “Really, our big push with the organization has been working with the solar farm, as they go through their siting board process and working with the landowners (concerning) lease agreements they have with the solar farms. Mostly, our organization has been trying to understand the solar industry and the impact it will have on our community.
“There are two solar companies coming into the region,” Davenport continued. “One is the farm in Lyon County with RWE Renewables and the other one is with Geronimo; they have two projects in Caldwell County. It is (accurate) to say that those two projects will be the most significant economic investment that has happened in the region from one agency.”
Davenport expects the construction effort to generate job opportunities for local workers. Further, she has been in contact with Caldwell Regional Career Center and Morganfield Job Corps about training opportunities in the solar field.
Looking forward, Davenport is encouraged by the experience of other regions.
“Everything that we have heard so far is that these companies have been great to work with,” she said. “They’ve been very transparent with our elected officials and me, when we have questions. We will have an impact in the community.”