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Citizens concerned about solar regs
Barton County Commission
Solar Project
Currently, Acciona has 8,000 acres leased across Barton County with the intent to put 2,400 acres into production of solar energy and components related to solar generation, up from a previously reported 6,000 leased and 1,500 in production to generate 300 megawatts. In a January 2023 study session it was revealed nondisclosure agreements have been signed, and Acciona representative Adam Stratton would not discuss financial matters about the leases. Typically though, lease arrangements for solar farms pay landowners around $1,500 an acre per year, with some online property reports of land in Barton County earning potential of over $1,700 an acre per year. The above picture was provided by Acciona at a city council meeting.

The Barton County Commissioners met Tuesday, Feb. 27 at the temporary Courthouse located at 1500 Kansas Ave. in Great Bend. Attendance at the meeting and the scheduled appointments afterwards was unusually large due to the ongoing discussions revolving around the large scale commercial solar project that is looking to begin construction soon. Members of the audience shared some words after the agenda items were covered. Commissioners, Commission Counselor Patrick Hoffman, and County Administrator Matt Patzner met in executive session for 20 minutes under the terms of attorney client privilege. After the regular meeting, the Planning and Zoning Commission gave an update to the board of commissioners on solar regulations and their timeline.

After the commission approved appropriations for the fourth 13th month of 2023 and an accounts payable register for Feb. 13 through Feb. 27, County Clerk Bev Schmeidler presented a request from the county appraiser for added, abated, escaped, or refunded taxes for 18 records totaling $8,216.70 resulting from payments under protest.

Noxious Weed department gave a report and management plan which it will send to the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

The commissioners also approved a renewal of the agreement for a computer software package by Computer Information Concepts. Commissioner Donna Zimmerman commented that the software is good but the company customer service is poor.

Commissioners also tabled a discussion about the Quivira Water Rights issue until commissioner Tricia Schlessiger is able to attend the next meeting in person. She was able to attend remotely so did not provide the update.

Members from the public waited until the latter portion of the meeting to discuss the solar regulations being proposed. The Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing Thursday, Feb. 22 at Barton Community College. Planning and Zoning (P& Z) is asking for an extension of the moratorium on commercial solar farms be extended to June 30.

This photo shows an example of the solar panels Acciona Energy USA hopes to build in Barton County.

Lindsey Bogner, a landowner in Barton County, requested that the County Commissioners approve the extension request to June 30 but that there be no further extensions.

“As a landowner and citizen of Barton County, I would request that you approve that with no possibility of extension past that time,” Bogner said. “I do not want to see this moratoriumed to death.”

Commissioners reminded those in attendance that the planning and zoning regulations changes that are currently being considered do not pertain to one single project and that permits can still be approved or denied on an individual basis.

Jettie Zoller, Barton County resident, expressed concern for the tax exemption the solar companies would be allowed, decreases in property values for homes near panels, and also dangers associated with the battery storage systems and fire.

Zoller also wanted to clarify who County Counselor Patrick Hoffman represents after comments made during the Feb. 22 meeting. Zoller asked Hoffman, “I’m not sure who you are representing; are you representing the taxpayers and Council (commission), or are you representing the landowners?”

Hoffman responded saying, “I’m the attorney for the Board of County Commissioners. So while I care deeply about everyone, I work directly for this board in their responsibilities.”

Zoller also asked the commissioners to disclose if they had any conflicts of interest. All claimed there are none with the current project. Commissioner Schlessiger did disclose that she and her family own multiple properties around the county but have no current lease with solar companies.

Forest Ormes, a recent transplant to Barton County, plans to send a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and read a few sentences of the letter to the commissioners. The letter states, “Plans to build a solar panel one mile outside Cheyenne Bottoms constitutes a threat to endangered species that migrate through the bottoms. Endangered species include whooping cranes, American golden plover and other rare birds.” The letter to the USFWS continues, “I invite you to assign one of your staff to investigate.”

The next Planning and Zoning Commission meeting will take place Thursday, Feb. 29, at 6 p.m. at Barton Community College Room F-30 in the Fine Arts Building. The public is encouraged to attend and no prior sign-up is required.