Douglas County Commission to consider creating regulations for solar farms in rural areas

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Westar Energy and Baldwin City partnered to build this solar-panel array, pictured Aug. 30, 2019, in the city's public works yard.

County leaders will soon consider whether to create regulations for solar farms in rural Douglas County.

As part of its meeting Wednesday, the Douglas County Commission will consider initiating a text amendment to the zoning and land use regulations for rural Douglas County for the development of standards for Solar Energy Conversion Systems, or solar farms. Planning staff are requesting the creation of regulations for solar farms because they were recently contacted regarding plans to develop a solar farm in rural Douglas County.

Under current regulations, the solar farm use is classified in the zoning regulations as a utility and is permitted in rural Douglas County with approval of a conditional use permit, according to a staff report from planner Mary Miller. Smaller, accessory solar systems, such as rooftop panels or a freestanding solar thermal system to heat a swimming pool, do not require approval of a conditional use permit and are regulated under the commercial building code.

The proposed regulations would cover large-scale solar energy systems that are not an accessory to another use on the property, meaning the systems generate electricity for transmission and use elsewhere. The zoning regulations do not currently contain specific standards for such systems, which can range from a few acres to thousands of acres. The largest solar farm in Kansas is located at Johnson Corner in Stanton County and spans 144 acres, according to the report.

The report states that the regulations would not be tailored to any specific applicant or project, and would address various factors related to all solar farms, including location criteria, mitigation of potential nuisances such as glare, and standards for height, setback and landscaping/screening for mitigating visual impact. Other standards include plans for managing storm water or dealing with any environmentally sensitive areas.

“Staff would work toward development of standards to set limits, define locational criteria, and establish application requirements with a text amendment to the Zoning Regulations,” the report states.

The report notes that solar energy is a form of renewable energy and use of solar energy systems should reduce greenhouse gases in the area. With the review of any solar farm application, information would be requested regarding the end user, the benefit to the community and the impact of the solar farm on the amount of fossil fuel-generated energy in the area. The report states that the review of any large-scale solar project that would take land out of agricultural use would need to be evaluated with the competing values of agricultural preservation and renewable energy in mind.

If the County Commission approves the initiation of the text amendment, a draft of the proposed amendment would eventually go to the Planning Commission for a public hearing. The Planning Commission’s recommendation would then go to the County Commission for ultimate consideration.

The County Commission will convene at 4 p.m. Wednesday for its study session and 5:30 p.m. for its regular business meeting. The meeting will be open to the walk-in public at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., but a link for the public to watch live online is available on the county’s website, Residents may also call in and listen by phone by dialing 1-312-626-6799 and entering meeting ID 980 6489 7024.


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