Prep work on 1,000-acre solar project in northern Douglas County has been ongoing since 2021; company could submit an application by June
photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World
Kansas City energy company Savion has been leasing land and doing prep work for a proposed 1,000-acre solar energy facility just north of Lawrence since 2021, and an application for the project could be submitted to the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Commission as early as June.
Those new details and more were shared with members of the public who live near the proposed project area for the first time Thursday evening at an informational meeting about the project, dubbed the “Kansas Sky Energy Center.” The Journal-World first learned of the project Tuesday, and the company is aiming for it to be located about a mile north of Lawrence just across the Kansas River on a 1,103-acre project area. According to a website for the project, Savion anticipates a maximum of only 734 acres in that area would be covered by solar equipment.
Savion is doing the preliminary development of the project and going through the application process, and if the application were approved, Evergy would build, own and operate the facility. Representatives with Savion and Evergy told folks who attended the meeting that work was well underway to gather the materials required for a conditional use permit application under the county’s new regulations for solar projects. Brianna Baca, the director of development for the project and a Savion employee, said the company is anticipating the earliest possible start for construction would be sometime in 2024, with commercial operation beginning in 2025.
photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World
But Baca said while June is probably the earliest the company could anticipate filing a conditional use permit application for the project, it doesn’t plan on rushing forward without gathering more community feedback first.
“We are very early in the project here,” Baca said Thursday. “Our next steps are probably to have another community meeting … We are going to have more meetings. We are working to meet with all the neighbors individually.”
The presentation also touched on a few other key project details, including how long the facility could be in operation if it’s approved and how much it could generate in property tax revenue.
Baca said the facility would have an operating life of 35 years, but the conditional use permit would only be good for a maximum of 25 years. The presentation materials also included preliminary projections that said the project could produce more than $110 million in new property tax revenue for townships, school districts and the county over the project’s life. It wasn’t clear whether that estimate was over 25 years or 35 years.
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The county’s solar regulations were approved about a year ago, but Baca said the company had been performing survey work even before then at the beginning of 2022. As a result, the project map already takes into account the setbacks laid out in those regulations — solar panels and arrays must be located a minimum of 500 feet away from any existing residence.
photo by: Savion
Baca said the work completed during the past couple of years likely means there won’t be any need for further field work, so the plan moving forward is to compile a number of studies and plans that are required under the regulations.
For example, Baca said a third-party firm has already completed environmental, wetland and cultural studies for the project, and more studies of elements like sound, traffic and stormwater drainage are in the works. Baca said the plan is for the permit application to also include a road maintenance agreement with Grant Township and guidelines for vegetative screening at nearby properties, tailored to neighbors on an individual basis.
“Our goal is to figure out what’s going to work best for the community,” Baca said.
The senior permitting and environmental manager for the project, Ashton Martin, added that a vegetation plan for the project is another piece that’s in the works. That plan would outline how the site could incorporate pollinators and native grass plants.
Martin said the project team is also working with the Kansas Biological Survey out of the University of Kansas to put together a coordinated agrivoltaics plan. Agrivoltaics refers to the simultaneous use of land for solar power generation and agriculture. Martin said that could include a combination of plantings like what could be outlined in the vegetation plan, forage and sheep grazing occurring underneath solar panels at the facility.
“Agrivoltaics is something that Savion is passionate about, that we have professional experience in, and that we’re exploring actively,” Martin said. “I would also say that it is still in its infancy and being fleshed out.”
Only a few members of the public attended the meeting, since it was largely targeted at neighbors within a 1-mile radius of the project area, but they had plenty of questions about the specifics of the project. That included questions about what sort of lighting would be used on site and how solar panels might affect wildlife and surrounding residences.
But most of those neighbors simply wanted to know how much they’re going to be considered when it comes to Savion’s next steps. Baca said the company plans for the process from here to play out based on that feedback.
“The soonest we could potentially submit an application to the county would be June, but that’s pending feedback from all of you,” Baca said. “That’s in a perfect world; we’re not pushing for that if that’s what everybody here says ‘No’ against.”