Company behind plans for solar array north of Lawrence anticipates contributing $110M in tax revenue

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The company hoping to build a huge solar energy electrical-generation plant north of Lawrence said Thursday evening it expects the facility will add $110 million in property tax and business tax revenue for Douglas County over its expected 25 years of operations.

In addition, an official of the company, Savion Energy LLC, said via email that the project, called the Kansas Sky Energy Center, would employ 175 construction workers to build the solar array, but just a handful of workers — two to five — to operate it. 

Subject to permitting, Savion said it hopes to begin constructing the facility at the end of next year and have it operational in 2025. Local electric utility Evergy Inc. would operate and get electricity from it, according to plans announced by the two companies.

Officials of Savion and Evergy met with about 35 interested local residents to discuss the proposed project at an open house Thursday evening on the second floor of Sunflower Cafe in downtown Lawrence, at what they said they hoped would be several public meetings to explain the project and answer questions. They also handed out promotional items like coasters, glasses and seeds with the Kansas Sky Energy Center logo printed on them.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times About three dozen community members gathered for a meeting about Savion’s plans for a massive solar array north of Lawrence on Thursday at Sunflower Cafe.

The companies hope to begin seeking approval for the project from local zoning officials and other regulators by June. Savion and Evergy have declined to discuss the cost of the facility; however, a poster board at the meeting said the project is a “$110M+ capital investment by developer for solar and storage projects.”

Officials said the overall $110 million tax revenue figure is an estimate, and reflects a 10-year property tax abatement before the county could begin collecting taxes on the property.

Concerns raised by attendees at Thursday’s meeting included the amount of noise the facility would make in converting solar power to electricity and how noise, light and traffic from the plant would affect nearby residences. Savion and Evergy officials discussed plans to provide “vegetative screening” to make the plant less obtrusive and to grow vegetation around the photovoltaic arrays that would attract pollinators and preserve the land.

Brianna Baca, director of development for Savion, told Thursday’s meeting that the company already has had environmental, wetland and cultural impact studies done on the site by third parties and found no issues.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Brianna Baca, director of development for Savion, speaks to the crowd.

The proposed project covers more than 1,100 acres — more than a square mile — just north of the Kansas River and west of Highways 59/24. Savion, a Kansas City-based division of oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, said it has options to purchase or lease the land for the facility. 

“So why here? Why does this make sense?” Baca said. She listed several factors, including flat terrain, proximity to Evergy’s Midland Junction electrical substation and a “willing landowner.” “There are only a few places in the county that will allow solar energy, and this is one of them.”

She also said a factor in choosing the site — which Savion has been evaluating for two years — was “residential density, and I know the neighbors don’t want to hear this, but this is one of the less populated areas in Douglas County.”


But neighbors of the proposed facility expressed concern at the meeting about the impact it could have on their area, especially noise from the power inverters that the plant would use to make electricity.

Savion officials said the inverters would be in the middle of the project, as far as possible from neighboring homes; would only operate during the day, when the sun is shining on the solar cells; and would make a humming sound of no more than 60 decibels, as required by Douglas County ordinance. 

But one attendee said, “That seems like a lot.”

Ashton Martin, senior permitting and environmental manager for Savion, replied that the company was still doing sound studies, and added, “We don’t know that it’s going to be 60 [decibels]. It may be 50. It may be 30.”

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times

An Evergy official at the meeting, Jason Humphrey, VP of development and assistant treasurer at the utility, was noncommittal when asked if the solar project would hasten the retirement of the company’s large coal-fired electrical generating plant, the Lawrence Energy Center, just across the Kaw. Evergy promised a couple years ago to close that plant by the end of this year and replace it with solar generation, but reversed that plan a few months later and said it would convert the plant to run occasionally on natural gas. 

Humphrey said the addition of the solar generating facility would figure into the company’s long-term planning for the older generating plant, but wouldn’t be much more specific. “Will this project impact the Lawrence Energy Center retirement date? Potentially, but probably not directly,” he said. 

Evergy, which has been aggressive about building wind generation in western Kansas and elsewhere, has scaled back previously ambitious plans to convert to more solar generation. 

But Humphrey said of the Kansas Sky Center proposal: “We’re very excited to partner with somebody local, somebody who’s invested in Kansas. And as the local utility, we’re really excited about the opportunity to have that serve our local customers.”

— Mark Potts contributed to this report.

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