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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Commission approves solar moratorium but not Evergy's request to install overhead cable

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

The Linn County Commission on Monday did not approve a request by Evergy to run electric lines from the La Cygne Generating Station, pictured above, to a substation in Amsterdam, Mo., because of concerns it might be used for a solar utility installation there. (Journal file photo)

By Charlene Sims,

MOUND CITY – On Monday, Nov. 27, the Linn County Commissioners revisited a utility permit for Evergy and voted on a resolution for the second solar moratorium in Linn County.

The resolution for a temporary moratorium on solar energy conversion systems (SECS) passed on a 2-to-1 vote with Commissioner Jason Hightower voting against it.

Hightower said that he felt like the county could have handled the concerns and issues with solar utility installations through the regulations and conditional use permit (CUP) process and that a moratorium is just what is being asked for.

Earlier in the meeting, Public Works Director Shaun West clarified that the utility permit that was brought up at last week’s meeting was not for a burial of electric lines but for the approval of lines to be run over the county’s road.

West said he had originally sent back the permit to Quanta Utility Engineering Services, the company hired by Evergy Metro to run the lines, because two of the electric poles were in the county right of way. He said that the plan was re-engineered and that the plan complied with county standards.

West told the commissioners that Evergy was running the power line to a substation in Amsterdam, Mo., but that he could not answer what the purpose of that line was.

“I don’t know how much questioning or how much concern I can relay to them about the infrastructure they are building out into another state,” said West. “I did, however, oversee the plan or review it and did send it back to them to make sure that they qualified or they complied with our requests as it crossed over into Missouri on our right-of-ways.”

Commissioner Jim Johnson asked if there was anything the county could say about it if it was overhead.

County Counselor Gary Thompson said it’s just basically authorizing them to cross over the county’s right-of-way.

“If they are going to do any construction over, in or under the right-of-way, they have to get a permit, and so that is what they have done here,” said Thompson. “That’s about all you can do is approve it.

Commission Chair Danny McCullough said, “In my mind, it’s a step toward a solar power. That’s what I would think. Are we allowed to ask that?”

Thompson said they could ask but he did not think that they had to tell the commission what their business reasons are.

“I know we ran into that on the cell towers. We couldn’t require that they tell us what their business plan was. If they want to put it up, they put it up. I think this would be similar to that,” said Thompson.

“This won’t be going against our moratorium?” asked McCullough.

“This has nothing to do with it,” said Thompson. “Even if this is anticipating that there will be a solar farm, this is not a part of that. This does not require a CUP. It’s not a part of that plan. This is a part of Evergy’s distribution system out of their power plant.”

McCullough allowed audience member and solar opponent Mark Briggs to speak about this because he lives near there. Briggs expressed his concern about conduit that was put in during the spring by Evergy and is still not finished.

Briggs said that the conduit was really close to the road and even in the gravel. He said that some pieces sticking up were 6 to 12 feet long. I think we need to make sure it is done correctly. Briggs showed the commissioners pictures of the conduit.

McCullough asked Thompson to explain the process of approving the permit.

Thompson said that this is basically the reason the county has permits. It is so the county knows where things are buried and can make sure that things that are buried are supposed to be there.

“We have never in the past required any kind of justification for why they are putting something in as long as it meets our requirements,” said Thompson. “The utilities have a right to put stuff in our roads but we have the right to regulate how they do it. The statute requires us to let utilities use our roads.”

“What happens if we deny this, Gary? Can we require them to come in and talk to us?” asked McCullough.

“I suppose you can ask them to,” said Thompson.

“I just feel like there’s a lot of stuff going on underneath our noses still. I was coming home yesterday I see five utility trucks in the middle of a pasture. Is that part of the solar thing?” asked McCullough.

Thompson asked if the commissioners had gotten the letter from Clearway, one of the solar companies.

Johnson said, “Clearway sent the letter but are they the only solar company in our area? I don’t even know where it’s all at, to tell you the truth. Is Clearway the only company? How can we control what is going on to know what’s going on?”

Thompson said that until the solar companies are doing something that requires a conditional use permit, he did not think the county could.

Johnson said that other resources like oil wells and gas wells required a permit.

Not from the county, Thompson said.

“I would like to know more about it from the contractor, what the substation is going to be used for, and what their intentions are since it is over in Missouri,” said McCullough.

“You can ask anything. Do they have to answer, probably not, to be quite frank,” said Thompson. “I think if you refuse to approve it you need to have a good justified reason for refusing.”

West said that he had made sure that everything on the Linn County side of the line is compliant with the county’s regulations. He said that there were no irregularities that were unresolved.

Conduit sticking out in the road, Johnson said, adding that may be a different project but we need to resolve that.

Thompson agreed with the concerns about whether the first project was done correctly and that could be a justification for holding off on the vote.

County Clerk David Lamb asked, “What you are talking about would really be policy changes for us wanting more information for a burial permit or crossing. And are we going to get ourselves in trouble singling one out doing that without looking at every burial request that way?”

“We have a moratorium in place that says we can’t do anything from here on out. How do we know they’re not still doing it?” asked McCullough.

Thompson told McCullough that the commissioners had not passed the resolution yet. He said they had voted to enact it and he wanted to go over several drafts with the commissioners.

“That doesn’t have anything to do with this, in my opinion,” said Thompson.

“Even if we have a moratorium on a place on a place that was picked to have a solar farm, we can’t ….” said McCullough.

Thompson told him that the moratorium was not on a place but on the process. He read from the K.S.A. Statute 17-1901 that corporations created for the purpose of utilities have the right to place their poles, piers abutments, wires and other fixtures along, upon or across any public road. They really have the right to use the road, said Thompson.

“We don’t have the right to ask them their reasons for doing this?” asked McCullough.

Thompson said he did not see anything giving the county that right.

Johnson made a motion that the commission hold off on approving the permit until they learn more about who owns the infrastructure in the previous project. The motion passed unanimously.

In a later phone conversation with Hightower, he said that he voted for this not because of the concerns about the connection to solar but because of the questions about the previous Evergy project that was not yet completed.

At the meeting, McCullough said that the commissioners needed to look at the policy for utility permits.

McCullough asked again about the trucks he saw in the pasture.

West said if they have permits, they are from the state.

“You’re not going to be able to stop them from putting solar panels in Missouri,” said Hightower.

West will attempt to get either a representative from the engineering company or Evergy to meet with the commissioners.

With that finished, Johnson asked Planning and Zoning Director Darin Wilson if the planning and zoning board had anybody coming up that was term limiting out.

Wilson said there were two people that come up next year and three in 2025. He said he would have to look at the dates.

Johnson asked him to look and see what district they are in so we can see where we are at and what kind of time frame we’ve got to find somebody.

At the end of the meeting, Johnson asked, “What about our attorney? What are we going to do with our solar attorney?”

Thompson replied, “This may be the time when you want some advice from somebody who knows about this stuff. I would suggest keeping her on retainer but don’t use her unless we have to. I mean she just charges for the time she actually works.”

McCullough said “So during this time we will be working on the Article 14, we’ll be working on the CUP process and everything in between, so we could utilize her.”

Thompson told them that when they feel like there is something she needs to have input on, reach out to her. But he suggested not making that a daily or even weekly occurrence, adding that the attorney does have expertise in the process beyond what he has.

McCullough said he was good with that and asked Johnson if he was. Johnson said that it was pretty expensive.

Thompson recommended that the county keep her on retainer because she was more qualified than he was in solar issues.

Hightower said that he would like her to be available to the commission.

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