At special meeting, Douglas County Commission to decide the fate of 1105-acre solar project proposed for north of … – Lawrence Journal-World

4 minutes, 55 seconds Read

photo by: Shawn Valverde

This site north of Lawrence is the proposed location of the Kansas Sky Energy Center solar project.

Douglas County leaders are set to take a key vote Saturday that will decide the fate of what could become the first utility-scale solar energy facility in the county.

At a special business meeting Saturday, the Douglas County Commission will consider a conditional use permit for the Kansas Sky Energy Center, which is proposed for 1,105 acres just north of Lawrence and west of Lawrence Regional Airport.

As a reminder, the project is a joint venture from Kansas City energy firm Savion, a renewable energy company owned by oil and energy giant Shell, and Evergy. The 159-megawatt facility — which Evergy would build, own and operate if the conditional use permit application is approved — would be capable of supplying electricity to approximately 30,000 Kansas homes annually.

To date, the first — and only — solar energy project to have been approved since county leaders passed regulations for solar projects in 2022 is the roughly 12-acre “Stull Solar Farm” just south of Lecompton. The Kansas Sky Energy Center is aiming to operate on a significantly higher scale, with about 604 acres of the overall project area to be covered by solar panels.

Because of that scale, the project has been the subject of significant discussion in county meeting rooms, including a marathon eight-hour meeting at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission in December 2023.

Planning commissioners were ultimately split on the project and voted 4-4 to recommend that the County Commission approve it; tie votes in the Planning Commission function effectively as a recommendation for denial. Projects recommended for denial need a supermajority vote for final approval, which in the case of the County Commission would be 3-0.

On top of that, a group of people who own land near the proposed project site filed a valid protest petition, which also would require a 3-0 vote for approval.

The right place?

One key concern about the project has been its location. The Kansas Sky Energy Center’s project area includes 312 acres of “prime farmland,” considered some of the highest-rated and most productive farm ground in the county.

Opponents have wondered why the prime farmland of the Kansas River Valley north of Lawrence is the most suitable location for the project, and some have advocated for relocating the project to an area with fewer land use concerns.

photo by: Contributed

A new Stan Herd earthwork, now visible from the north side of Interstate 70 between East 1500 and East 1600 roads, calls for the relocation of the Kansas Sky Energy Center project. The utility-scale solar facility is proposed for 1,105 acres in the Midland Junction area, about 2.5 miles north of the North Lawrence interchange, and opponents of the project have said the high-quality farmland that makes up some of the project area is not a suitable location.

The project team, though, has said that the 11 alternative sites it considered for the project were less suitable because they were in anticipated growth areas, would cause environmental impacts or would include a higher amount of high-quality farmland.

Staff with Savion has also contended that the project area includes only a small fraction of the approximately 103,000 total acres of prime farmland located throughout the county.

Missing plans

As the Journal-World has reported, the developers’ preliminary plan showing how stormwater runoff would be contained was rejected by Douglas County Engineer Chad Voigt, and a new stormwater plan won’t be completed in time for Saturday’s meeting.

That uncertainty has been a cause of concern for neighbors of the proposed project that aims to add nearly 8 million square feet of solar panels in Grant Township, an area that already has few homes due to flooding concerns.

photo by: Kansas Sky Energy application

The boundaries of the Kansas Sky Energy project are shown. Also shown are soil types in the project. Areas shown in red are soils that are rated to have high stormwater runoff potential.

As the Journal-World reported, the lay of the land in the township is such that most flood waters flow into North Lawrence, which itself has a stormwater infrastructure at risk of failure according to a 2005 drainage study.

A memo from Voigt to commissioners included with the agenda packet for Saturday’s meeting notes that more detailed site design and construction plans will be necessary to complete an effective stormwater study, which needs to identify factors like vegetative ground cover and drainage paths.

In another attachment in Saturday’s agenda packet, an email thread between Voigt and a member of the project team, Voigt confirms that final approval of the stormwater management plan will have to occur at a later date when detailed project plans are available.

Gary Rexroad, the chair of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, has also expressed concern to the Journal-World about the lack of a stormwater plan — and the lack of involvement from any City of Lawrence officials, considering the potential impacts on North Lawrence.

That’s not the only incomplete plan for this project. Staff with Savion told the County Commission last month that a plan concerning “agrivoltaics” — the simultaneous use of land for solar energy generation and agriculture — likely won’t be fleshed out in more detail until after the project is approved.

The county’s regulations for solar projects list several additional materials that are to be submitted with a conditional use permit application for a commercial or utility-scale solar project. The stormwater plan is one of them. The regulations note that while a preliminary version of that plan may be provided with the original application, “engineered or detailed” plans must be submitted for the county engineer’s review and evaluation prior to the County Commission’s final action on the application.

The Douglas County Commission will meet at 9 a.m. at the Douglas County Public Works training room at 3755 E. 25th St. The meeting will also be available via Zoom.

This post was originally published on 3rd party site mentioned in the title of this site

Similar Posts