Douglas County Commission approves permit for solar farm north of Lawrence

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Following a nearly 10-hour meeting Saturday, Douglas County commissioners voted to approve a permit for the Kansas Sky Energy Center, a massive solar farm to be built north of Lawrence.

The meeting drew dozens of public commenters. Commissioners planned the special Saturday meeting knowing that there would be numerous members of the public wishing to speak on the topic.

A unanimous (3-0) vote was required to approve the project because planning commissioners had tied in their vote and a protest petition had been filed against the project.

The 159-megawatt solar farm will be built, owned and operated by Evergy with designs provided by Savion LLC, a division of Royal Dutch Shell based out of Kansas City. The commission will consider additional studies and plans related to the project as it gets further along.

Plans call for the solar farm to be located on parcels that constitute 1,105 acres north of Lawrence, west of the airport and south of Midland Junction. The site area will include about 604 acres, and if all the solar panels were laid edge to edge, they’d cover about 218 acres. All but 6 acres will remain vegetated, according to the agenda materials. (Read more about the project and process in the articles at this link.)

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Dozens of community members gather to listen to a Douglas County Commission meeting about a permit for a massive solar farm to locate north of Lawrence. There were about 60 people in the main meeting room and about 70 more in an overflow room.

Members of the public who spoke Saturday raised a number of concerns about the project. Almost 60% of those who spoke were opposed to the project; almost 40% spoke in favor of it; and a couple of people asked the commission to defer the vote.

Opponents said the soil in the area is some of the best farming soil in the world. Others raised concerns about animals, noxious weed control, stormwater runoff, potential contamination of water nearby and much more.

Many opponents said they support solar energy and believe it is important, but they believed the proposed location was not the right place for it. One neighbor who operates an agritourism venue nearby the site and his attorney said the venue was already seeing fewer bookings and some wedding cancelations.

Proponents for the project asked commissioners to respect property owners’ rights. They emphasized concerns about global warming and the climate crisis and said Douglas County could be a leader by approving the project.

A neighbor of the project said they thought it was time for leaders to “start walking the walk” to decrease reliance on fossil fuels. Another neighbor said they believed the risks were negligible, and the county should do everything it can to support solar energy.

Project representatives said this location was the only site in Douglas County that would work for the project.


Commissioners heard from more than five dozen community members, including property owners, farmers, city residents and more over a span of nearly four hours, bookended by hours of questions and answers with county staff and project representatives.

Commissioners noted that there were a lot of community concerns discussed that were not part of the factors that they were required to consider in weighing whether to approve the permit. They asked numerous questions, including several that had been raised by community members.

Several people had questions that had not yet been answered because some studies have not been done. County staff members and project representatives said those questions would be answered later in the process if the permit was approved.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Douglas County Commissioner Patrick Kelly speaks during a Saturday, April 13, 2024 meeting about the Kansas Sky Energy Center, a large solar farm proposed north of Lawrence. At right is Commission Chair Karen Willey.

Commission Chair Karen Willey said the project location would not require new transmission lines — and potentially using eminent domain to claim property in order to put in new transmission lines — so they could avoid those painful conversations. “To not have that be a part of this conversation is a huge help for me,” she said.

Her house was taken through eminent domain to construct a highway, she said, and the most difficult part was the time when her family was waiting to find out what was going to happen. But ultimately, she said it was a good thing for the community overall, even though it hurt her family.

“What are we willing to give up for each other? What are we willing to give up for the next generation? And the answer can’t be nothing,” she said.

Willey, a soil scientist by trade, said she thought the project could benefit the area’s ecology starting with the smallest microbes and fungi, and over the course of 25 years could bring life back to soils that she said have not had it for a very long time.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Douglas County Commissioners Karen Willey, center, and Shannon Reid, right, listen to Douglas County Engineer Chad Voigt speak during a Saturday, April 13, 2024 meeting to discuss the Kansas Sky Energy Center, a large solar farm proposed north of Lawrence.

Commission Vice Chair Shannon Reid said it made a difference to her that the land would not be removed from production in perpetuity. “Temporarily, perhaps, depending on the details of the project, but not permanently and that makes a difference for me,” she said.

Commissioner Patrick Kelly said he was trying to reconcile with neighbors what they would have expected for the land when they purchased their properties, and whether the solar farm would be a massive deviation from those expectations.

Commissioners agreed that their task was to weigh competing values in the county’s comprehensive plan and make a difficult decision.


“I’ve been making land use decisions for this community for over a decade now, and I have never seen such even differences of opinion on any one like I’ve seen on this,” Kelly said. “It’s really been fascinating to watch.”

“… Everybody has to give up something so that we can make progress toward a common good,” he said.

He said he had concerns about how big the project was, and it seemed like a big risk. Willey agreed that it was “daunting,” but the project could have been much larger and still been in line with county regulations.

Reid said she thought the conditions for the permit addressed the community’s concerns. Knowing that subsequent studies and plans would come back to the commission as the project progresses, and that “oversight continues in a very public way” was important to her. She said a “yes” vote Saturday was not a promise that the project was going to happen, and she pledged to scrutinize each step of the process.

Willey, too, said she had “seventy-some” questions still to ask at future points in the project.

Construction on the solar facility is tentatively set to begin in early 2025, according to plans.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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