Douglas County Commission hears more about proposed solar farm; will vote on project in April

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Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday held a work session to discuss a permit for a proposed massive solar farm north of Lawrence, the first of two meetings focused on the project.

The Kansas Sky Energy Center, a 159-megawatt solar farm, would be built, owned and operated by Evergy with designs provided by Savion LLC, a division of Royal Dutch Shell based out of Kansas City. If approved, the solar facility, set to be located north of Lawrence, will begin construction in early 2025. The solar farm would comprise 237,300 solar modules, 43 inverter stations, and solar tracking systems.

City staff members have recommended approval of the project, but Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission members voted in December to recommend denial of the project on a 4-4 tie. A valid protest petition was submitted, so a unanimous vote — 3-0 — would be needed for the commission to approve the permit. A protest petition is signed by neighbors of the potential solar farm who are opposed to the permit.

City Planner Mary Miller outlined the project and a series of conditions for approval.

Representatives from Savion and others working on behalf of the plan spoke to commissioners about why they believe the project’s permit should be approved. They said this location was the best spot in Douglas County for the project and the project would meet rigorous code requirements on wildlife, conservation, stormwater runoff and more.

The project also plans to use agrivoltaics, a system where land is used for both solar energy and agriculture.

“If we want to do solar in Lawrence, solar in Douglas County, this is the spot I think,” said Travis Narum, senior vice president and head of development for Savion. “If we want to be part of the energy future in bringing renewable energy, this is a great project and I hope we’ll have your support.”

However, members of the public have voiced frustrations over the project at past meetings. They have contended that the designated site for the solar farm holds significant agricultural value and raised concerns that the solar project would disrupt food production in that area.

County commissioners asked questions of Savion representatives and other topic experts about the proposed agrivoltaics system, the project’s timeline, buffering plans and more.

The commission does not take public comment during work sessions. However, the commission will hold a special Saturday meeting next month to consider and likely vote on the permit.

The commission will hold a special business meeting starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 13 to hear public comment, discuss, and consider action on the permit. The meeting will be held at the Public Works/Zoning and Codes Building, 3755 E. 25th St., because the commission’s regular meeting room is undergoing renovations.

The meeting will also be available via Zoom. Commission meeting information and Zoom links are posted on the county’s website, and agendas are posted on the portal at this link.

Commissioners will also soon have a work session and make a decision about new draft wind energy regulations. Read more about that at this link.

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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.

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