Old Continental Steel plant site gets new life as solar farm

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KOKOMO (WTHR) - City leaders say it's a bright new future for one of Kokomo's biggest eyesores and most challenging properties.

On Wednesday afternoon, they held a ribbon-cutting for the new solar farm built at the site of the old Continental Steel plant.

The plant, at one time Kokomo's largest employer, went bankrupt in 1986 leaving many jobless and a huge contaminated property behind.

It took two years to tear the plant down and cost the EPA $66 million to clean up the site. Even then, there were limited uses, but a part of the site proved a good fit for a South Bend solar company.

"It really lined up with what we needed for a solar plant," said Austin Williams of Inovateous Solar. "We had tremendous community support to get it done, so we're happy. It was a site that needed to be maintained by city, can now be a productive energy producing place."

Jessie Kendall, who lives across from the site said, "It was all nasty before someone come in and done something nice for it and way we feel it's great they're (doing) that."

The sprawling solar farm includes row after row of solar panels, 26,000 in all.

"It doesn't look too bad because it's kept up," said Cathy Ferren.

Still, for Ferren, whose dad, uncles and brother all worked at the steel plant, the solar farm is a whole new concept.

"I've just wondered how it works," she said. "How do you use it or what's the deal about it?"

Williams said, simply put, the solar panels will generate enough electricity for Duke Energy to power 1,000 homes a year.

But unlike the steel plant that once provided thousands of jobs, Williams said the solar farm pretty much operates on its on, except for occasional maintenance.

Abbi Carpenter lives a block from solar farm. She said the loss of manufacturing has hurt many communities, but said she also knows nothing stays the same.

"It's sad to see those jobs fade, of course. For many years my grandparents and their grandparents, that's what put them to work but now it's a new age, a new technology," Carpenter said adding the land "is being used, it's not just sitting there, so I think we can appreciate that."

And for the first time in decades, the city of Kokomo will actually generate some income from the site with Inovateous Solar leasing the land for 20 years. Initially they'll pay the city $36,000 a year with that amount increasing 10 percent every five years.

The Superfund site also includes a large parcel west of the solar farm on the other side of Wildcat Creek. Kokomo is in the process of putting in soccer fields there, which could open as early as this fall.

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