Douglas County leaders briefed on revised wind rules ahead of key vote next week

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Sandy Day, the lead planner in the process of developing revised regulations for wind projects in Douglas County, addresses the Douglas County Commission during a work session Wednesday, April 24, 2024.

On Wednesday, Douglas County leaders got a comprehensive briefing on the county’s revised regulations for wind energy projects — and had plenty of clarifying questions to ask — with a week to go before they’re expected to make a final decision on the rules.

In fact, the Douglas County Commission had more questions to ask than there was time to answer them during a work session ahead of the group’s regular meeting Wednesday afternoon. That left Sandy Day, the lead county planner behind writing the rules, with a list of topics to revisit when commissioners take up the revised regulations detailing more rigorous application requirements and setback standards than what has been on the books since 2016 for a vote next week.

Commissioners’ questions covered a wide range of topics, from the various setback distances laid out in the section of the rules covering design standards to their definition of a “qualified professional” — people with the necessary expertise to prepare the plans and assessments required by the rules — and what qualifications it takes to meet that definition.

Commissioners Patrick Kelly and Shannon Reid had a pair of questions stemming from a recent application for a project using a different type of renewable energy, the 1,105-acre Kansas Sky Energy Center solar project. Kelly noted that the applicants behind the first industrial-scale solar energy project in the county asked for some variances, and Reid specifically wondered what is and isn’t negotiable in the wind rules.

“I don’t think there’s anything in there that prevents them from asking for a variance from any of the design standards,” Day told commissioners. “Procedures, they cannot ask for variances from; land use, they cannot ask a variance from. Design standards would be something that could come back to this body as part of their application.”

In a presentation earlier in the work session, Day told commissioners that planning staff spent a lot of time on the section of the rules about the contents of an application, which calls for more than a dozen different plans, studies and assessments.

As the Journal-World has reported, a construction noise plan is one new addition to the list that’s emerged since the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission approved the revised rules in January, and it was recommended by planning staff based on concerns about construction noise that arose during the conditional use permit application process for the Kansas Sky Energy Center.

“Applications and the contents of applications are immensely important, as you saw through the recent solar application — and really any limited use, making sure we have the right and correct data to even start the process,” Day said. “If we do not have a complete application, they’re not going to be advancing that to the Planning Commission or to, ultimately, this body, unless an applicant is making a request for a waiver.”

Notably, the Kansas Sky Energy Center project was approved while missing completed plans for stormwater management and agrivoltaics, the simultaneous use of land for solar energy generation and agriculture, which will have to return to both bodies for approval at a later date.

On Wednesday, county staffers also made it clear that they’re anticipating significant public participation at next week’s meeting, a common trend at the Planning Commission level as the revised rules have worked through the approval process.

Douglas County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said she plans for the revised wind rules to be the only item on next week’s agenda, and added that the county is setting an earlier deadline for public comment submissions than usual so commissioners have enough time to read them all before their meeting.

In other business, commissioners:

• Heard a presentation about “integration challenges and intersectional opportunities” in housing, behavioral health and criminal justice from Bob Tryanski, the county’s director of behavioral health projects.

• Consulted with the county counselor during an executive session. The reason given for the executive session was to maintain attorney-client privilege “on a matter involving Douglas County.” Commissioners didn’t take any action after returning from executive session.


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