Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Chisholm Trail photo voltaic challenge held up by objections, native laws


Sedgwick County seems able to observe its ban on wind farms with widely-reviewed laws that will permit acre after acre of photo voltaic panels to pump renewable power into {the electrical} grid.

However, the province nonetheless has a moratorium on the development of enormous photo voltaic farms.

“It begins with a easy phrase: not in my yard,” stated Walt Chappell, a solar energy booster and longtime critic of native authorities.

The stall has left the business pissed off and a few environmentalists offended that objections from close by neighbors to a proposed Chisholm Trail utility-scale photo voltaic challenge west of Maize might have hindered the challenge.

Sedgwick County wants laws for a comparatively new type of industrial improvement — and it is getting excessive marks from business and federal companies for these drafted by the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission.

But after the county confronted a selected photo voltaic farm proposed for the northwest suburb of Wichita, native officers balked in March and prolonged the county’s moratorium for six months.

What planning and public coverage consultants say

Kimberly Svaty is a Topeka-based lobbyist for the corporate, Invenergy, that wishes to construct the Chisholm Trail Solar Energy Center. He stated Sedgwick County’s authentic laws struck a wise stability for property homeowners, challenge builders and the general public.

“If you ask any developer, nearly throughout the nation, ‘What’s one county photo voltaic regulation that you’d maintain up (as a mannequin for others)?'” he stated, “there are (usually) 4 counties within the nation, and one is Sedgwick County.”

But the Chisholm Trail challenge prompted county commissioners to ask MAPC to have a look at revised laws. After that, the county fee prolonged the short-term ban on new photo voltaic farms.

Then the county introduced it had contracted with the Virginia-based authorities consulting agency Berkley Group to suggest the laws. The firm’s suggestions are anticipated in early July. The present moratorium expires on September 13.

What’s the holdup for the Chisholm Trail photo voltaic challenge?

Chappell, who labored with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and helped write the primary photo voltaic power commercialization technique for the US Department of Energy, stated individuals who stay close to the location are pushing baseless claims that the challenge will pollute the bottom water.

He additionally stated that these close by residents wrongly steered that the glare of the photo voltaic panels would invite fowl strikes and blind airplane pilots.

Solar arrays close to the Denver and Sacramento airports haven’t precipitated issues, he stated.

Chappell stated Sedgwick County officers might admit they should weigh photo voltaic improvement in opposition to future progress like Johnson County. But Sedgwick County is just not rising almost as quick as Pottawatomie, Johnson, Wyandotte, Leavenworth and Douglas counties, which collectively grew a mean of 10.4% between 2010 and 2020. During the identical interval, Sedgwick County’s inhabitants grew by 5 %. Most of that progress — greater than 15,000 of the roughly 25,000 new residents — got here in Wichita.

“In Johnson County you do not have a spot to place a 2,000- or 3,000-acre photo voltaic farm,” Chappell stated. “They determined they needed to push (farms) a minimum of a mile or two away from city affect.”

What Johnson County is doing

Jay Leipzig, Johnson County’s director of planning, housing and group, stated the county has tried to stability these considerations by requiring a 1.5-mile buffer between photo voltaic farms and the border of any metropolis.

“(It) actually comes all the way down to the general measurement of the challenge, the neighborhood from the encompassing cities and won’t stop their progress in future annexation and future progress patterns,” he stated.

Leipzig stated the county needs to encourage progress and information the way it occurs in rural areas.

He stated most conditional use permits in Johnson County run for 10 or 15 years, so he and his workforce must stretch their considering in relation to photo voltaic.

“We have a 25-year conditional use allow requirement for photo voltaic, for instance, with most long-term leases being 25 to 30 years,” he stated.

A story of two Kansas counties

Chappell sees Sedgwick County as a special place. Johnson County is generally flat. In Sedgwick County, Wichita supplies an city heart and the density decreases as you journey from downtown till it turns into rural areas.

Chappell stated Sedgwick County mustn’t attempt to undertake Johnson County’s method as a result of the areas are so totally different.

“Some folks assume, ‘We must develop. We do not need a photo voltaic collector farm proper in the course of the place we predict we’ll construct a housing improvement or have one other Walmart strip mall or one thing,'” he stated.

But Chappell stated a lot of the land close to the place the Chisholm Trail challenge would go is just not included. And, he stated, some farmers there have a lease with a photo voltaic firm “and could have a lease in 2019.”

“They’re already receiving (lease) funds,” Chappell stated, “to allow them to maintain the land if this challenge goes ahead.”

A timeline of Sedgwick’s journey to the photo voltaic power plan

And on the Statehouse…

State Sen. John Doll, a Republican from Garden City, stated he is seen small pockets of opposition from some Democrats who don’t desire developments too near city areas and a few Republicans who see renewables. which is a risk to coal crops.

A photo voltaic farm close to Lawrence, Kansas, collects rays for electrical energy. (Credit: Haines Eason/The Beacon)

“We have a gaggle of people that assume the world is flat,” he stated. “They assume windmills trigger most cancers and that sort of stuff. But I believe they’re within the minority.”

He stated native regulators ought to resolve the place to permit photo voltaic farms.

“If native individuals are upset … nicely, do not put it on the market,” he stated. “That’s straightforward.”

State Sen. Marci Francisco, a Democrat from Lawrence, additionally stated native officers ought to management if and the place photo voltaic farms are OK.

“It’s clearly a neighborhood choice as a result of it is zoning,” he stated. “The factor is, not many individuals have the expertise of residing subsequent to the photo voltaic. So our imaginations generally get the most effective of us.”

Francisco’s district will quickly embrace the lately accredited 159-megawatt, 600-plus-acre Kansas Sky Energy Center photo voltaic farm, an Evergy challenge.

The native dialog surrounding the Kansas Sky challenge has upset the liberal group. In the tip, nevertheless, Douglas County commissioners voted unanimously to approve the challenge.

However, each lawmakers stated native officers ought to attempt to accommodate photo voltaic farms.

“We all the time want power,” Doll stated. “We won’t run out of air. And after we run out of solar, we do not go round speaking about it. So we’re speaking about two sources of power which might be on the market and it is best that we use them. “

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