Heartland Electric Cooperative is hoping to build a solar farm like this one it owns in Bourbon County a couple miles north of Mound City. Opponents of solar farms are hoping to persuade the county planning and zoning board to prohibit them. (File photo)
By Roger Sims, Journal staff
Note: In an earlier printing the number of acres allowed in Linn County for solar farms was incorrect. It has been corrected in this article.
A change.org petition started by Linn County resident Alison Hamilton to prohibit solar “farms” in Linn County has received nearly 500 signatures.
Hamilton hopes the petition will prompt the Linn County Planning and Zoning Commission to revise zoning regulations that were approved in July after planners spent nearly a year in making changes. One of the changes hammered out by the commission was to increase the amount of acres in the county available to commercial solar operations from 4,000 to 8,000 acres.
The zoning regulations do prohibit industrial wind generators from being erected in the county, however, the planning commission approved that on a split vote.
Solar energy companies have been approaching landowners in the area around the La Cygne Generating Station for more than a year while the county had a moratorium on industrial solar installations awaiting an update of the regulations.
Evergy, the owner and operator of the coal-powered plant, announced last year its schedule on closing its power plants that use coal, including the Lawrence, Kan., plant originally expected to shutter this year.
However, Evergy backed off that schedule this year, and the Lawrence plant is still in operation for now. The La Cygne plant was on the list, but its expected closure date was more than a decade away. Evergy has indicated it is committed to increasing its use of renewable energy sources including solar and wind power.
One of the reasons solar companies are interested in siting near the power plant is access to high-voltage transmission lines.
A frequent discussion topic of the Linn County Commission is the likelihood of the power plant closing and the impact that would have on taxes. Utilities, with Evergy paying the largest percent, the gas pipelines and railroads pay more than 60% of the county’s taxes. The loss of Evergy's revenue would dramatically affect individual property taxes and county services.
The planning and zoning commission is set to meet on Tuesday, Sept. 12, at 7:00 p.m. and Hamilton is encouraging people opposed to the solar farms to attend the meeting. Representatives of the solar energy companies are expected to be there as well.
In a Facebook post, Hamilton charges that regulations on solar farms were approved with little public input, however, during a public hearing on proposed changes earlier this year at the Prairie View Performing Arts Center, opponents and proponents expressed their opinions on the matter.
In a survey done by the county’s Economic Development Department in preparation for updating the county’s comprehensive plan about two years ago, a significant number of respondents were against wind turbines, but the number of responses opposed to solar was significantly less. Solar power development is included in the county’s updated comprehensive plan.