Great Bend also eying solar farm zoning
Acciona Energy USA, the developers of a proposed commercial solar farm in Barton County, haven’t given officials with the City of Great Bend any idea if the city will be impacted by the plans or not, said Interim City Administrator Logan Burns, adding Great Bend has no zoning regulations regarding solar facilities on the books.
The area in question butts up against Great Bend and Cheyenne Bottoms, and includes Barton Community College. The city would be involved should the development include a portion of its three-mile extra-territorial jurisdiction.
The city has zoning authority for three miles outside of its city limits.
Since there are no conditional use regulations on the books for this, Burns said Acciona would have to come before the City Council. The council could then send the matter to the city’s Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission would then meet, hold a public hearing and make a recommendation to the council, Burns said.
But, he said, none of this has happened. They city’s last contact with the company was several months ago.
In regard to the proposed solar farm in southeastern Barton County, the Barton County Commission Wednesday morning has some weighty decision to make.
First, it will consider amending the county’s zoning map to prohibit solar farms within six miles of Cheyenne Bottoms. Second, it will consider a moratorium on all solar farm construction in the county.
This is in regard to the $320-350 million project of Chicago-based Acciona Energy USA, an American subsidiary of Madrid, Spain-based Acciona Energy. The company is looking at a swatch that touches Great Bend and Cheyenne Bottoms, and includes Barton Community College. The company has signed option agreements for 1,500 acres that will “be behind the fence” and that will fall somewhere in the large area under consideration. It has not disclosed the exact location.
However, some have expressed concerns that these solar panels’ reflectivity and their related infrastructure pose a threat to migrating birds and may have a negative impact on the Bottoms as a protected wildlife area.
What does all this mean?
It is important to look at the back story when looking at the pair of commission agenda items scheduled for this Wednesday.
Following a tedious four-year process, Barton County revised its zoning regulations and zoning map 10 years ago. These have been revised periodically since, including a conditional use permit process for commercial solar farms.
Like any conditional use request, these would go through the Barton County Planning Commission, said Environmental Manager Judy Goreham, who oversees county zoning matters. The Planning Commission would meet, hold a public hearing, invite all landowners within the 1,000-foot boundary of the application site, and make a recommendation to the County Commission, which has the final say.
Generally speaking, at that point, the County Commission will have two options.
First, by a simple majority (three of the five commissioners), they can approve the recommendation. Or, by a super majority (four of the five) they can send it back to the Planning Commission for further consideration, she said.
So, Wednesday morning, the County Commission will vote on amending the zoning map again to exclude commercial solar farms from around Cheyenne Bottoms, Goreham said. In an unusual situation, this item came up during an April 27 Planning Commission meeting, but there has been no public hearing.
Goreham said the County Commission will make one of the two choices noted regarding the map change.
First, by a simple majority, it can approve the recommendation to create a “no-build zone” that extends six-miles outside the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area. Or, by a super majority, it can change, reject or send it back to the Planning Commission, she said.
Should the commission simply approve it, the change would go into effect immediately. But, there would be dangling, unresolved legal issues regarding the precise delineation of the map.
But, if the matter goes back to the Planning Commission, it would contact all the involved agencies (Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, the Nature Conservancy, etc.), and all landowners within the proposed map, area as well as landowners within 1,000-feet of the proposed boundary. And, the area involved would be legally defined.
This would culminate in a Planning Commission public hearing. A recommendation would again be forwarded to the County Commission, and that process would repeat, Goreham said.
What about the moratorium?
Basically, the moratorium would bring all development of any commercial solar project to a halt, Goreham said. It would remain in place until removed by the County Commission.
Should the County Commission send the zoning map back to the Planning Commission for more study and approve the moratorium, Goreham said the moratorium would block any commercial solar farm applications as well as stop anything related to commercial solar farms from moving forward in the areas of Barton County that Barton County regulates, until the issues are resolved.
This moratorium would not apply to incorporated cities in Barton County, nor the Extra-Territorial Zoning Jurisdiction that the incorporated cities control.