When plans for a proposed solar farm in south central Barton County emerged recently, along with the announcement came numerous questions from a curious public.
Where will it be? How big will it be? What impact will it have on the nearby Cheyenne Bottoms?
This is a project of Chicago-based Acciona Energy USA, an American subsidiary of Madrid, Spain-based Acciona Energy. They have developed solar and wind energy projects around the world, with over 2,000 assets across the United States.
The company is looking at a massive swatch of central Barton County that touches Great Bend and Cheyenne Bottoms, and includes Barton Community College. While they won’t utilize all of it, the company has leased an area framed by NE 10 Avenue on the west, just north of NE 50 Road on the north, just east of NE 80 Avenue on the east and U.S. 56 on the south.
The Great Bend Tribune Friday afternoon spoke with Adam Stratton, Acciona Energy USA’s director of solar development. He addressed many of the project’s details.
Below are the questions and responses:
• How and why did you come up with Barton County as a site for a project?
“This project came from another project developer,” Stratton said, referring to Tenaska, an Omaha, Neb.-based energy company. “We acquired it from them.”
Tenaska had done preliminary survey work and identified this area as having good access to existing power transmission infrastructure.
• Have you signed the property leases for property? How much land will you have under lease?
Stratton said they have option agreements for 1,500 acres that will “be behind the fence,” and that will fall somewhere in the large area under consideration.
• Can you give a more specific location?
Stratton said they aren’t ready to do that.
First, “we want to protect the privacy of the landowners,” he said. Secondly, they don’t want to make that announcement until they have all of their studies done (looking at the flood plain and environmental concerns, including the Central States Flyway and Cheyenne Bottoms).
• Will it be in one tract or multiple tracts?
“Ideally, it would be in one big square,” Stratton said. This would be better from financial, construction and permitting perspectives.
However, the reality is that, due to issues like the flood plain, it will be in more than one tract. “It definitely won’t be one giant block.”
“We will strive to get contiguous properties” instead of the sites being far-flung, he said, noting this would make connecting them and permitting them easier. The locations would be connected by underground easements.
• When are you going to seek zoning approval?
They have done “desktop modeling,” looking at local, state and federal studies (environmental, etc.) to get a general idea of the area, he said. Next are the field studies that will begin this spring.
After that, they will look at getting zoning permits, Stratton said. He didn’t anticipate this would be a problem.
The zoning permits would be considered by the Barton County Planning Commission and referred to the County Commission for final approval. Should the areas cross into a city’s zoning jurisdiction, the city would also have to give approval.
• Are there federal/state permitting requirements? If so, what is the status of those?
Stratton said they will be consulting with all local, state and federal agencies. But, “this process has not kicked off yet.”
These consultations will also start this spring as they get a better picture of where their sites will be.
• How many panels are planned and what is the output going to be?
As for the number, that’s hard to say, Stratton said. This will depend somewhat on the project’s fragmentation, which will impact the engineering.
He did say the panels are 90 inches by 45 inches. They will be on posts that track and rotate to follow the sun, and at their highest point will be about 15 feet tall.
The output will be about 300 MW, 150 MW at each of two substations.
• How will these hook into the grid? What about transmission lines?
The electricity will enter the grid via substations. They will utilize one existing station to tap into the transmission lines and construct one new one.
• Where is the electricity generated here going?
“I don’t expect any of this energy to leave the county,” he said. What this does is free up the electricity that was flowing into the county to be used elsewhere.
• If all goes as planned, when will construction begin and when would it go online?
Should all the studies and permitting go smoothly, and Stratton believes they will, they hope to break ground in early 2024. Construction will take one year to 18 months.
• What is the cost of the project?
This comes with a price tag between $320-350 million.