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  • Writer's pictureRoger Sims, Journal Staff

Clearway Energy reveals plan for solar project at two events

Clearway Energy Group officials released the site of its planned solar utility project on Monday and Tuesday at two events. The areas shaded in brown are where the solar panels will be located. The dark area at the top of the map is La Cygne Lake with the power plant jutting into the lake at the upper center. The lower third of the project area will remain undeveloped. (Clearway Energy Group)

PLEASANTON – The interest by two companies in building solar energy utility installations near the La Cygne power plant is the result of a request for proposals (RFPs) by Evergy, the electric utility company that owns the plant. Clearway Energy Group and EDF Renewables are the two companies that have indicated they want to install solar farms.

Representatives of Clearway Energy an energy development company with offices across the country, met with area residents in an open-house format on Monday evening and Tuesday morning, Oct. 23 and 24, to lay out plans for a proposed 3,300-acre solar installation just south of the La Cygne Generating Station.

Another meeting is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1, at the 4-H Building at the Linn County Fairgrounds.

The Linn County Planning and Zoning Commission is expected to hold a public informational meeting on county solar zoning regulations on Nov. 14. The Linn County Commission agreed to hold the meeting at the insistence of a vocal group of solar opponents who asked the county to place a moratorium on solar installations.

The commission on a 2-1 vote refused to implement the moratorium earlier this month.

At this week’s meetings, Clearway representatives had maps of the layout of the installation as well as information on fencing, the expected impact on wildlife, and environmental concerns.

Barry Matchett, head of external affairs for the Midwest and Gulf regions for Clearway, said that his company was developing the project as a result of Evergy’s RFP.

Matchett said that the owner of the property his company hopes to develop wanted to keep about a third of the property open for hunting.

Josh Framel, a senior manager of development for Clearway, said that most of the property already has adequate fencing for the installation. Federal regulations require that electric utilities have adequate fencing for security, he said.

Representatives had display boards set up at the meetings that addressed Linn County zoning regulations, impact on wildlife, layout of the solar installation and background on the company, which develops and manages wind power and natural gas installations as well as solar.

The display boards seemed designed to dispel the arguments raised by the group of Linn County residents who oppose solar utility installations.

That group has argued that the installations will disturb wildlife patterns and that land will be bare underneath the solar panels. But Clearway officials have said that the fencing has already been in place.

And according to the company, a habitat characterization study has been conducted, and the project has been coordinated with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The solar installations will avoid “quality” woodlands and grassland, will have limited encroachment of waterways and wetlands where state- and federally-listed species occur.

In accordance with the county’s zoning regulations, ground under the solar panels will be reseeded with a mix of native grasses and flowers. The zoning regulations also call for the height of the panels to be 10 feet or lower, and 500 feet from a residence.

The panels emit a low hum of about 60 to 70 decibels from 3 feet away during the day and make no noise at night, according to the company. That sound quickly dissipates over distance. Only 5% of the panel is flammable, so fires rarely occur, and the electromagnetic radiation emanating from the inverters that convert direct current into alternating current degrades to a low level at 150 feet away from the inverters.

According to the company, it has been involved in nearly 2,400 solar installations plus 400 community solar projects. Its energy portfolio also includes 4,000 wind turbine projects and nearly 2,500 natural gas projects.

Company officials also estimate that the project will increase local tax revenues by $20 million over the lifetime of the project. According to study available done by North Carolina State University on solar utility installations, the lifetime of the panels is expected to be 30 years, and once the panels need to be replaced or removed, much of the materials that go into their manufacture can be recycled.

As more solar installations are built, more efficient recycling of the materials will likely be developed, according to researchers with the university. Copies of that study were available at the meetings in La Cygne and Pleasanton.

The company estimates that there will be a total investment of $381 million, including real estate, construction, equipment and operations. It also estimates that there will be more than 250 construction jobs on site during the installation process as well as more than 50 indirect construction jobs over a 12-month period.

Five full-time equivalent employees will be need to operate the installation once it is complete, according to the company.

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