Energy firm conducted tests for a future utility-scale solar project application without any permits, Douglas County planner says

photo by: Google Maps

This screenshot shows the area where NextEra is requesting permission to conduct tests related to a future solar energy project application, signified by the box to the right of the image.

A Florida-based energy firm recently conducted construction activities without a permit in eastern Douglas County — geotechnical surveys a representative with the firm says are to prepare for a future application for a utility-scale solar project. Now, they’re seeking to continue those tests with the proper permissions.

That’s according to this week’s Douglas County Commission agenda, which includes four permit requests from the firm, NextEra Energy Resources, on behalf of West Gardner Solar LLC to allow utility-scale solar-related testing activity. The firm wants to conduct boring, pile load testing and electrical resistivity testing — used in evaluating the soil mechanics of a site, a requisite for designing the foundations of solar panel arrays — on seven properties across four sections of Palmyra Township along the Johnson County line.

Specifically, that area stretches from North 700 Road to North 300 Road from north to south, and from East 2300 Road to East 2400/County Line Road from west to east. The permits are being considered on a per-section basis, rather than one for each of the seven properties. County planning staff is recommending approval for a 60-day period from March 30 to May 29, with other conditions, including that only testing activity will occur and that testing activity shall be limited to 8 a.m. through 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

According to a memo from county planner Karl Bauer, the county’s zoning and codes office was made aware of NextEra’s unpermitted construction activities in December; a complaint from a resident in the area specifically mentioned that NextEra and Terracon, an engineering consulting firm, were driving metal beams into the ground well into the night, sometimes as late as 10:30 p.m.

A representative with NextEra, William Wilkins, confirmed with the county’s code enforcement officer that NextEra and Terracon had indeed been conducting surveys to prepare for a future conditional use permit application for a utility-scale solar project, the memo reads. County staff then informed Wilkins that a permit was required for the testing to continue and the activity ceased. The applicant submitted the permit applications in late January.

The Journal-World first reported on NextEra’s interest in developing what would be known as the West Gardner Solar project in this area back in 2021. As the Journal-World reported, the 3,000-acre solar panel farm would be partially located in southeast Douglas County, but the firm still hasn’t filed any formal application to move forward with the project itself. NextEra lists more details about the project on its website.

photo by: NextEra Energy Resources

A Google Maps image on NextEra Energy Resources’ website for its potential West Gardner Solar project shows the rough area where the firm wants the project to be located. As the Journal-World has previously reported, NextEra wants a 3,000-acre solar project to be partially located in southeast Douglas County.

In other business, the commission will:

• During a work session, hear a presentation of a draft housing and homelessness five-year strategic plan.

• Consider approving a conditional use permit to establish a quarry just southeast of Eudora at 1174 East 2300 Road, near the existing Hamm Quarry.

The joint Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning and Eudora Planning commissions voted nearly unanimously last month to recommend denying the permit, which was submitted by Topeka-based construction materials company Mid-States Materials.

This will be the second time the Douglas County Commission sees the proposal. In January, the commission voted to return the original conditional use permit application to the Lawrence-Douglas County and Eudora planning commissions for further discussion and an updated recommendation, which resulted in their recent decision to recommend denial.

Wednesday’s work session will begin at 4 p.m., followed by the business meeting at 5:30 p.m. at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. The meeting will also be available by Zoom. For meeting information, visit the county’s website:


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