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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Commission votes to again enact a solar 'farm' moratorium

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

The Linn County Commission in a split vote on Monday chose to enact a one-year moratorium on solar utility installations. (Journal file photo)

By Charlene Sims,

MOUND CITY – Linn County Commissioners on a 2-to-1 vote placed a moratorium on accepting applications for conditional use permits for solar utility installations on Monday, Nov. 20.

Commissioners are expected to adopt a formal resolution on the moratorium at their meeting next Monday, Nov. 27.

Commission Chair Danny McCullough who had previous voiced his support for solar projects, reversed his position on the issue by voting for the moratorium as did Commissioner Jim Johnson, who has twice before made motions to enact a moratorium on solar “farms” – motions that did not receive a second.

Commissioner Jason Hightower voted against the moratorium, however, before the vote he said that he hoped people would consider the issue with open minds.

“I want to thank this group of citizens for their continued input into the zoning regulations and the thought process for the future of Linn County,” he told the group of anti-solar residents who attended the meeting. “I think there have been some concerns raised that will need to be addressed. We will not find the right path forward without having open minds and discussion about these decisions.

“We have zoning regulations in place and a conditional use permit process to add conditions to these projects or reject them as the people see fit. This isn’t Bourbon County where the discussion will be held behind closed doors. There will be public hearings on these things. You will have a chance to voice your concerns over each independent project as it comes before you.

“If it doesn’t fit with Linn County, we don’t have to go forward with it, but let’s continue the process that we have in place to determine if it is or isn’t in the best interest of the county.

“The decision to keep or close the power plant will not be made at the local or state level. When and if that should happen, how will we make up the revenue generated by it? Will our property taxes triple to maintain the level of services we have today?

“Solar isn’t going to fix this issue – 8,000 acres of solar panels would be able to produce the same level of energy as the power plant, but we are not going to allow them to come in with 8,000 acres of solar panels. We have our 50% cap on prime farmland meaning that the Clearway Project that they have proposed would be taking 3,000 acres out of that cap to put on 1,300 acres of panels.

“Allowing solar, if that is the direction that the citizens are willing to try, would be a first step in starting the process of planning into the future of how Linn County will continue to prosper.

“The proximity to the wildlife refuge is a major concern of mine as well. Article 14-4b states that the planning commission may request a review of other and or third parties on determining the compliance of the application.

“This states that we can have the fire department weigh in on our ability and expected cost to the county to address the concerns over fire. We can also collaborate with Kansas Wildlife and Parks as well as other biologists to determine impacts and conditions that will need to be addressed and enforced. I’m not pro solar …”

At that point members of the audience laughed and McCullough asked them to please stop.

Jason Hightower continued, “I’m pro-Linn County…”

Once again members of the audience laughed and McCullough threatened to stop the meeting if they did not let Hightower continue talking.

“We need to start looking into the future and figuring these things out if its not solar,” Hightower continued. “I will continue to try to find the right fit for Linn County, but we are never going to find a fit with our stop sign out.

“This can be stopped through the conditional use permit process. The same findings that are needed to stop it with a moratorium. Please continue to be part of the discussion so that we make the right decision.”

After Hightower’s statement, solar opponent Emily Thies, asked County Counselor Gary Thompson if he had developed a legal opinion yet about whether a commissioner could push the vote for a solar farm through and then later have one put on their place.

Hightower said that he wanted it put on record that he will not be putting solar panels on his farm.

Thies said she was not talking about him but about other commissioners and it should be put on record.

Thompson said he was not going to provide a legal opinion without researching it.

Linn County initially put a solar moratorium on solar until regulations could be updated including adding solar and wind regulations. The Linn County Planning and Zoning Commission spent nearly a year working on those regulations with James Kaup, a Topeka attorney who specialized in planning and zoning regulations.

A public meeting was held on the zoning regulations on April 27 and there was no significant comment about solar. The regulations were approved by the county commission unanimously on July 5 after being revised by the planning commission.

With the regulations in place, companies wanting to develop solar utility sites became more active in the area, offering contracts to property owners near the La Cygne Generating Station. Area residents began attending commission meetings claiming they did not know anything about regulations that would allow solar utility installations and expressed that the county had been hiding this from them.

At previous meetings, McCullough has argued with and tried to explain that he thought the solar project would help Linn County when the power plant’s owner, Evergy, decided to close it. He walked out of the Oct. 2 meeting after arguing with the people who wanted a moratorium put on solar projects.

At Monday’s meeting, after voting to put a moratorium on solar projects requiring conditional use permits, he lamented that Linn County did not have a plan for when the Evergy plant closed

While information presented at the meeting on Monday was similar to what commissioners have heard in the past, there were new presenters.

Solar farm opponent Alison Hamilton played a video recorded by state Sen. Mike Thompson (R-Shawnee), who is chairman of the Senate Utilities Committee.

In the video, Thompson said that the need to combat climate change was one of the biggest scams out there.

“Unfortunately, there have been decades of misinformation fed to the general public that we’ve got to reduce our carbon dioxide, we’ve got to reduce our carbon footprint, nothing could be farther from the truth, “ said Thompson. “In fact, carbon dioxide has no correlation with the temperature on this planet whatsoever. It is a very minor player. The sun is the only thing that drives the climate on this planet.”

Mike Thompson has tried to put through several bills to severely regulate or prohibit wind turbines in Kansas, but he has not been able to get them through his 11 member committee. Some of the bills would have restrictions that would have closed down current wind turbine installations across the state.

At present, wind turbines comprise more than 50% of the electrical power generated in Kansas.

Later in the meeting, Thies told the commissioners that she did not know why the commissioners felt they had to do this because the two companies that are interested in local projects, Clearway Energy Group and EDF Renewables, would eventually move on to another area because they were doing a massive land grab of Kansas.

She then read from a letter that Thompson sent to the commissioners in which he recommended a one-year pause on solar utility installations. She said he spoke at a Linn County Republican Central Committee meeting on Thursday, Nov. 16, and talked about the horrible things that would come to this county if they pushed this through.

She said that some of the things he said during the meeting last Thursday “was that after the solar panels, the temperature gets past the 70s, they don’t work. They shut down. He was talking about this net zero emissions, but I think he said it was .4 parts per million that the carbon dioxide was in the air. Once it gets down to .2, the trees start to die. If we get to zero percent emissions, all the plant life dies.

“If the plant life dies, it’s what sends the carbon dioxide up in the air and that’s what protects us from the temperatures in the atmosphere. If that’s gone we’re dead, so you can’t say you are looking at what is in the best interest of Linn County but people here in Linn County are saying we don’t want them.”

Thompson, a former television meteorologist who has said that science is for sale, apparently claimed at Thursday’s meeting that instead of carbon dioxide emissions trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere like most scientists claim, it removes heat from the atmosphere.

He also told the audience that the use of fossil fuels should be promoted because they produce more carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently have said that while record high temperatures around the world this year are blamed partly on the El Niño weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean, they are mostly caused by carbon dioxide emissions from human activity.

"Unfortunately, climate change is happening. Things that we said would come to pass are coming to pass," climate scientist Gavin Schmidt recently told Schmitt is director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies.

"And it will get worse if we continue to emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into our atmosphere," he added.

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