Officials behind 1,000-acre solar project north of Lawrence aiming to submit application later this summer; project team plans to open field office soon

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Brianna Baca, the director of development for Savion's more than 1,000-acre "Kansas Sky Energy Center" solar project, fields questions during a public meeting about the project Thursday, June 1, 2023 at the Lawrence Public Library.

Savion, the Kansas City energy company behind a proposed 1,000-acre solar energy facility just north of Lawrence, still has yet to file an application with Lawrence-Douglas County planners for the project, but on Thursday the leaders behind it said they plan to do so later this summer.

The company — in partnership with Evergy, which would build, own and operate the facility if an application were approved — hosted its second public meeting about the “Kansas Sky Energy Center” project Thursday at the Lawrence Public Library. As the Journal-World reported after the first public meeting in mid-April, the project has been in the works since 2021. It involves a project area about a mile north of Lawrence across the Kansas River of about 1,100 acres that Savion already has leased, 734 of which would be covered by solar equipment.

photo by: Savion

This map shows the proposed project area for Kansas City-based Savion’s “Kansas Sky Energy Center,” a 1,000 acre solar energy project the company wants to be located just north of Lawrence.

The timeline for submitting a conditional use permit application to the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Commission still seems to be much the same as it was back in April, when Brianna Baca, the director of development for the project, said the company had no plans of rushing the process without gathering more community feedback first.

“We wanted to finalize a couple more studies, but just wanted to start getting information out to people as we received it,” Baca said Thursday. “We are going to continue outreach and conversations with neighbors and the community, and we’re hoping to apply for a conditional use permit later this summer.”

Although the permit application timeline hasn’t really changed since April, Baca shared at least a few new details Thursday night. For one, she said work continues to finalize many of the studies Savion is required to submit with the application. The company may also conduct even further studies than what’s currently in the works, such as a reading on ambient noise in the area — essentially, the natural noise level when a neighbor steps outside their home.

Baca said the team also plans to open a project office in the near future, and folks will be able to book appointments via the project website to meet with her or the senior permitting and environmental manager for the project, Ashton Martin. Baca didn’t specify an exact date for when the office would open or where exactly it’d be located, though.

Baca also said the project team is working to put together what she called “visual simulations” for every neighbor to the project that show what it would look like from their home once the solar facility has been installed. She showed a few of those images at Thursday’s meeting, and they were essentially photos that had been edited to include what a small chunk of the project could look like from a specific viewpoint. She said so far, the team plans to create 20 of those images in total.

Otherwise, not much has changed between now and April. According to Thursday’s presentation, Savion is still anticipating the earliest possible start for construction would be sometime in 2024, and the earliest possible start of commercial operation would be sometime in 2025.

Preliminary projections also still estimate 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.

Folks who attended the meeting Thursday had their fair share of technical questions about exactly how long the project’s life would be — as well as the length of Savion’s conditional use permit with the county, if it were approved. In Douglas County, a conditional use permit is valid for a maximum of 25 years unless the Douglas County Commission grants an exception, but officials with Savion have previously said this project would have a “useful life” of upward of 35 years before being decommissioned.

Jason Humphrey, Evergy’s vice president of development, said it’s hard to offer much more than a rough prediction on that front now, largely because of the county’s requirements for conditional use permit applicants to re-apply once their original permit expires.

“It’s hard to predict what would happen in 25 years, so I didn’t want to overstep with any of the answers to those questions looking into a crystal ball,” Humphrey said. “We know what the Douglas County ordinance says today … Predicting what the County Commission is going to do in 25 years is beyond my purview, so I want to make sure that we’re being very open that we’re aligned with what the ordinance says today.”

Many of the other questions from the dozen or so members of the public who attended the meeting were fairly technical and ranged in topic from the environmental effects the project could have to its noise impact and where exactly tax revenue would go.

This was the third public meeting about an industrial-scale solar project in Douglas County in as many months. In May, officials with Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources hosted their first public meeting to date about their proposed “West Gardner Solar” project targeting a portion of southeastern Douglas County, which would be triple the size of Savion and Evergy’s project. There isn’t an application going through the process for either project yet.


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