Stan Herd earthwork urges relocation of 1,105-acre solar project proposed for north of Lawrence

photo by: Contributed

A new Stan Herd earthwork, now visible from the north side of Interstate 70 between East 1500 and East 1600 roads, calls for the relocation of the Kansas Sky Energy Center project. The utility-scale solar facility is proposed for 1,105 acres in the Midland Junction area, about 2.5 miles north of the North Lawrence interchange, and opponents of the project have said the high-quality farmland that makes up some of the project area is not a suitable location.

A group of local farmers has partnered with earthwork artist Stan Herd to create a work urging the relocation of a utility-scale solar energy project proposed for 1,105 acres just north of Lawrence.

The art installation — visible from the north side of Interstate 70 between East 1500 and East 1600 roads, not far from the proposed site of the project in the Midland Junction area about 2.5 miles north of the North Lawrence interchange — is the latest statement in the conversation around the Kansas Sky Energy Center, which is being designed by Kansas City energy firm Savion.

photo by: Contributed

Another view of the new Stan Herd earthwork calling for the relocation of the Kansas Sky Energy Center project.

By next weekend, it could become the first utility-scale renewable energy project in Douglas County. County leaders will consider approving a conditional use permit application for the project at a special meeting Saturday, April 13, at 9 a.m. If it’s approved, public utility operator Evergy will own and operate the facility.

Location has been a key issue for opponents of the project, predominantly because of the type of land the project is aiming to be located on. That’s called out in Herd’s earthwork, which reads “Save Prime Farmland” and “Relocate Utility Solar.”

Prime farmland is considered some of the highest-rated and most productive farm ground in the county, and this project would cover 312 acres of it with solar panels.

Herd, who moved to Lawrence 35 years ago and quickly fell in love with the area north of the city, falls into the camp of community members who don’t want to see that happen. His earthwork makes use of some of the same types of soil in question and has been installed in a field owned by Pines International Inc., a Lawrence-based organic grower and supplier of wheatgrass supplements, that’s being transitioned to growing organic wheat.

“The idea of losing all of that ground to something more industrial, when that utilitarian application could be on any ground — there’s 50 times more ground (in the county) that would be suitable for that than this ground — it was easy for me to just jump in with my friends up there and say, ‘Hey, if I can do something to help, let’s do it,'” Herd told the Journal-World Friday.

Herd added that he’s a “big supporter” of solar and other alternative energies, but disagreed with placing them on top of the “best farm ground in the state.”

Herd told the Journal-World that the earthwork was being finished up Friday, 10 days after he worked with the group to design it. Getting involved meant working around what’s already a busy schedule for the prolific artist; Herd said he’s been juggling projects in New York, Atlanta, Brazil and China, but it was an easy decision to take a pause and create this piece.

“It’s not just a value to us now — it’s a value to us 100 years from now,” Herd said. “… Solar is important, wind is important, (but) it needs to be in the right place.”

Another collaborator in the project is the “Save Our Soils” group, which has previously spoken out against the project’s location and maintained that prime farmland should be preserved for only agricultural use. That group has proposed that the solar facility be relocated to less agriculturally productive marginal lands.

The project’s developers, meanwhile, have recently characterized the amount of high-quality farmland in the project area as negligible compared to the rest of Douglas County.

At a Douglas County Commission work session about the project in late March, for example, one member of Savion’s project team told commissioners that only about 3% of the approximately 103,000 acres of high-quality farmland throughout Douglas County is located in the project area.


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