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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Solar opponent seeks better direction from county officials

Calling the ad hoc committee's work on solar utility regulations a waste of time, solar farm opponent Mark Briggs asked county commissioners to order a ban on such installations. (Journal file photo)

By Charlene Sims,

MOUND CITY – Citizens Against Solar member Mark Briggs told the Linn County Commissioners on Monday, Jan. 8, that he had been working on solar regulations with the county's planning and zoning ad hoc committee and it was going good.

But then he said that many people from the public were wanting to know how they could voice their opinion because they were just now becoming informed about the solar farm issue.

Briggs said that he did not want to waste his time on the ad hoc committee. He said he wanted to know what the commissioners wanted. He told the commissioners that they needed to direct the planning and zoning board to do what the commissioners wanted.

Briggs said that at the two meetings he had attended, the committee had only gone over the regulations section by section.

Briggs said it seemed like the only direction that the planning board knows is that the commissioners just want them to look over the regulations.

“Which I truly don’t think, when we’ve had all these discussions, that was it,” said Briggs. “I think it’s one thing to look at the regulations and make changes if need be. We also need citizen input to see if the citizens of Linn County want this or don’t want this.” 

County Counselor Gary Thompson told Briggs that “Your representatives have repeatedly said you weren’t opposed to solar. You wanted the regulations tighter. That’s been said numerous times in these meetings.”

“No, we talked about both,” said Briggs.

“Well, you have talked about not wanting it in certain places,” said Thompson. 

Commission Chair Jason Hightower said he thought that the commission had given them a seat at that ad hoc committee table so that they could express those views and have them discussed. Hightower said that had been his intention. 

“If that’s your guys’ route and you want to take it. I just thought you need to direct the board of what you guys truly want done,” said Briggs. “I mean I know. The board thinks they were supposed to look at regulations and make changes.”

Briggs told the commissioners that it’s not like he could just push for a full ban. The ban has not been brought up one time in ad hoc meetings and it is not an option in our meetings. Because they think they are just modifying regulations. The committee is not finding new facts that would push for the ban.

Hightower told Briggs, “At the end of the day, we have to have findings. The same findings that we are going to have to have are things you are going to have to present against it to put a ban on it.”

Briggs continued to tell the commissioners that they needed to present something to the board about what they want.

Discussion continued about how to get people more information on solar. A referendum election was also discussed to show what the people of the county really wanted.

County planning commission Chair Richard Morrell agreed but he also suggested doing a scientific survey. 

Thompson told the commissioners that an advisory election is not binding, but it would tell commissioners what the people that showed up that day to vote wanted.

Commissioner Danny McCullough suggested that the commission use the American Rescue Plan Act  (ARPA) funds to purchase a used car to raffle off at public meetings so more people would attend. He said that people would be required to listen to the information before they could put in a raffle ticket for the car.

“We need to make it worth people’s while to come to your meetings and give their opinions, educate them with your guys' facts and pros and cons of it,” said McCullough.

“You guys do a great job of getting the word out about the facts of what it will do,” said McCullough, “It’s part of the reason I don’t go listen to these solar panel guys when they came here because I don’t know enough about them to make my decisions. But if I read what you have on the internet then I am obviously swayed to your way, so I don’t understand why we wouldn’t try to entice people here.”

McCullough explained that there were a lot of young people who were not interested or did not have time to care about this because they were just renters in the county. But he said he cared because he was looking at what the county could be in the future for his children. 

After the commissioners discussed how to get public opinion, County Clerk David Lamb told them,  “Just to throw something out, I don’t want to take anything away from public opinion. It’s very important you need to know what the public thinks, but that is not the only thing to consider on something like this.

“You’ve got landowners’ rights to look at. You’ve got state and federal regulations to comply with. I don’t think it is a yes or no based on public opinion. I think you’ve got other factors you need to consider.”

Briggs said what the county was lacking was the citizen input to know if the county wants it or not. While he said the county would like to get the tax revenue from the solar utilities, a lot of people would be willing to not have that revenue if it meant stopping the county from getting “raped and pillaged” by solar panels.

“Then we are going to have to rely on more taxes from you,” said McCullough. “We’re still going to have to keep up the roads, we still got to do all of that, so how do we do it?”

Briggs also said that the power plant had 6,000 or 8,000 acres in the northeast part of the county and the wildlife area had 18,000 acres south of that in that area. 

“We’ve already lost 18,000 acres to the south of us and we’ve already lost 8,000 acres to the north of us and then we are going to allow solar panels in between the two,” said Briggs.

“What do you mean lost?” asked Hightower.

“It comes out from your general residents to be able to purchase it or farm it for the most part,” said Briggs.

“But they are tax paying…” interjected Hightower.

“It doesn’t matter, future development is gone on those items,” said Briggs, “But you can’t keep raping and pillaging that corner of the county. It’s going to be a wasteland over there.”

“That’s a huge area if you add all of those together,” said Briggs. “No where else has anything like that.”

Hightower pointed out that the hospital board and the school district benefit from the power plant.

“What I’m saying is don’t (expletive) your landowners over,” said Briggs. It’s not fair when we sit up here, there’s a big group of us and then you get cocky and judgmental and its not fair to us. We are very passionate because it is all around our houses, so please listen to us.”

Both Morrell and McCullough expressed concerns about the tax base in Linn County when the power plant shuts down. 

Morrell said that he had looked at other counties in the area and the money they received from the solar farms and it was possible that Linn County could receive $1 million or more a year from the solar farms.

Morrell said that he thought the main thing that the county needed to grow in the future was high-speed, low-latency internet to each home so that people could develop businesses and that the income from the solar farms could help pay for that.

“If we don’t do it, what do we do?” asked McCullough on Monday. “Everybody just 

disappears out of here? If the community doesn’t want it, what’s our next plan? You guys are so big on public opinion. Public opinion is that everybody doesn’t want to pay high taxes.”

“Reach out to other counties and see what they do. Other counties don’t have renewable energy and they don’t have KCP&L (Evergy),” said Briggs.

Hightower pointed out that other counties also have higher mill levies. Linn County is the fifth lowest in the state. Fifth lowest out of 105 counties.

Briggs said he would have to go research that.

Hightower told Briggs that he was trying to provide him with the facts. The commissioner added that was what he’s been trying to do this whole time.

“I know you think I am arguing with you, but I am telling you there is another side out there. Is all I’ve been trying to say the whole time,” said Hightower.

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