Voicing support for solar

We are residents of Letcher County, in the Eastern Kentucky coalfields. Some of us have worked as coal miners and operators; for others, they are our family and friends. Some of us were born and raised here; all of us have chosen to make it our home.

Many of our loved ones have been forced to leave the area in search of work. We who remain are working together to survive this crisis and preserve our communities, however we can. We have built community centers, where our neighbors can work and gather, keep our traditions alive, and incubate new enterprises. We have built volunteer fire departments, our first and sometimes only resource to keep our homes safe and our neighbors cared for. We have started new, locally-owned businesses in food production, natural resource stewardship and digital technology, with many more under way.

All of these efforts are currently under threat from rising energy costs. As rates increase, and incentives for energy efficiency get rolled back, our homes and community organizations find it harder and harder to survive. The solution, from our perspective, is clear. Just as we’ve started to build an economy of our own, so must we start producing our own energy. We have spent the last year planning solar energy projects, and are preparing for our first installations later this year.

Folks in Letcher County are excited about the possibilities of solar energy. In an area starved for job opportunities, solar is a way to promote the growth of small business and put some of our unemployed neighbors back to work. The big energy companies see solar as a growth industry — they are planning huge investments as we speak — and we do, too. Our current laws create a level playing field that lets small communities like ours take advantage of this opportunity, by requiring energy providers to buy energy we produce (which they will then sell to other customers) at the same rates we pay.

House Bill 227, if passed, would change all that. It would tilt the playing field and make it impossible for ordinary citizens and small businesses to reap the benefits of this growth industry. Without a chance to produce solar power and sell it at a fair price, many of our most important community institutions could be forced to close their doors.

We have been dismayed to watch the discussion of HB 227 devolve into the same old culture war: urban vs. rural, solar vs. coal, left vs. right. That does not represent what’s happening in Letcher County. Yes, many of us long for the coal industry to come back. But we also know that coal and solar can exist side by side.

A healthy solar industry will help us pay our bills, grow our economy, and protect our communities. It will benefit communities across Kentucky, both rural and urban.

Nell Fields, Ben Fink, Seth Long, Bill Meade and Debi Sexton,

Letcher County

Kentucky highway funding

Infrastructure. It is a word we have been hearing a lot lately. And many undoubtedly have the same question: What is infrastructure? A short definition of infrastructure is: The basic facilities, equipment and instillations needed for modern society to function. Waterlines can carry the wastewater away. Roads, airports, the electrical grid, railroads, ports and fiber optic lines are all examples of the infrastructure that allows our economy and society to function.

Kentucky needs top-notch infrastructure to be competitive in the 21st century economy. Without the  necessary infrastructure to support their operations, businesses go elsewhere — taking their jobs with them. That is why it is important for us, as a state, to not only maintain but also improve our current infrastructure. 

This brings me to the focus of this letter, which is highway infrastructure. Gov. Matt Bevin recently unveiled his priorities for road and bridge projects that should be addressed in the next statewide highway plan. This plan, commonly called the “Six-Year Plan,” identifies projects totaling $8.6 billion for the six-year period between 2018 and 2024. Because current state and federal transportation funding is woefully inadequate, only $2.6 billion is available to address these priorities. This means the funding rate is only 30 percent, compared to the needs. This is definitely not the way to build and maintain a first-class highway system.

In 2015, nearly $200 million per year in highway funding was cut in Kentucky. Nearly half this money (48 percent) was shared with county and local governments to fund the maintenance and upkeep of their road systems and ti fund rural secondary roads (those four-digit rural state backroads). Coal county governments have experienced a double whammy on their funding. this reduction in road funds also came at a time when coal severance receipts were sharply decreasing.

Also, for more than a decade, around $100 million per year has been diverted from the road fund for other programs. Many of these endeavors are worthwhile in their own right, but they should be funded by the general fund. The road fund is constitutionally set aside for the maintenance, operations and construction of Kentucky’s highway system. Let’s keep it there.

I encourage you to contact your state representative and state senator and ask them to support legislation that increases highway funding, to keep Kentucky competitive. Numerous organizations, including the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers and the Kentucky Farm Bureau, are actively supporting  this increase because they understand its importance to Kentucky’s economy. Now is the time to act, before we get farther behind. 

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” — John F. Kennedy 

Clint Goodin, PE, PLS,

Pineville

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