FRANKTON – For local farmers who are leasing ground for a proposed solar farm, it was a business decision.
Tony Bailey currently farms 2,400 acres north of Frankton and has leased 250 acres to Invenergy for the Lone Oak Solar Farm. He will lose an additional 550 acres where property owners have leased ground for the development.
Dan Etchison farms 700 acres on County Road 1100 North and has agreed to lease 200 acres to Invenergy.
“It’s a business decision,” Bailey said Wednesday. “I don’t see anything wrong with it. Other than the view there is no health or environmental concerns.”
Etchison said making the decision based on the farming business had to play a part in the leasing of the ground.
“The way the farm economy is,” he said. “There is a cost to farm. This will preserve the ground and keep the farm in the family.”
His sister, Denise Etchison, said the farm market is so volatile.
“There is a saying that farmers are cash poor and land rich,” she said. “It’s like any other product — you’re looking for a return on your investment.”
They have signed 30-year leases with Invenergy with a 10-year option. They will be paid a yearly amount with automatic built-in increases over the three years. Invenergy has agreed to pay any increase in property taxes.
Both Etchisons and Bailey expected there would be some opposition to the project.
“There was more than I expected,” Bailey said.
Etchison said area residents have known about the proposed solar farm for more than a year.
“We expected there to be opposition,” Dan Etchison said, “like everything else.”
His sister said the family has researched solar farms but there is nothing that will change people’s opinion.
“The company has bent over backwards,” Dan Etchison said. “I noticed there were 409 properties on the sheriff’s sale. I wondered if those people had this opportunity would they have been able to keep their property.”
They all agreed the proposed solar farm project has divided the community.
“It will be difficult to bring the community back together,” Bailey said.
Dan Etchison said the animosity will continue once a decision is made by the Madison County Board of Zoning Appeals. The BZA meets 6 p.m. Thursday at the 4-H Fairgrounds building in Alexandria.
“No matter what the outcome is, we haven’t changed who we are,” he said. “It’s the reality of the situation.”
Bailey said it is upsetting that other farmers in the area, who decided not to lease ground for the project, want to tell them what can be done with their property.
“I don’t like to say the decision was for the money,” he said. “It is a valuable investment for the community.”
Denise Etchison said the project will only cover approximately 14% of the nine square miles in the project area.
Bailey said after 30 years that land will be in better condition than currently because it will allow time for it to rejuvenate.
Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.