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County officials greenlight massive solar farm project after prolonged deliberation: 'Start walking the walk'

"We do need to take advantage of our new opportunity."

"We do need to take advantage of our new opportunity."

Photo Credit: iStock

After spending almost 10 hours listening to local residents' thoughts on the matter, officials greenlit a solar farm project in Douglas County, Kansas. 

The Lawrence Times reported that county commissioners unanimously approved the 159-megawatt solar farm, called the Kansas Sky Energy Center, north of Lawrence. Evergy, the owner and operator receiving the project permit, will rely on Savion LLC for the design. 

Construction is expected to begin in 2025. 

A previous vote resulted in a tie that caused the project to stall after a petition was filed opposing the solar farm. Some community members expressed concerns about ruining soil for agriculture, weed control, water contamination, and reduced tourism. In Virginia, a 211-acre solar project that was ultimately approved raised similar fears.

Supporters of the farm argued that Lawrence could be a leader in the transition to clean energy, with one resident near the proposed site saying it was time to "start walking the walk," per the Times, to reduce dependence on dirty fuels such as oil, coal, and gas.

While tax incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act have made money-saving, cleaner technologies including solar panels and heat pumps more accessible to many Americans, the United States still has a long way to go in its quest to reduce harmful pollution from its grid. 

According to the Energy Information Administration, roughly 60% of electricity in the U.S. still comes from dirty energy, the primary cause of an overheating planet.

The rising temperatures have been linked to extreme weather events such as droughts and increased activity by crop-destroying pests, and a Farmer Voice survey by Bayer found that 76% of respondents were worried about how changes in climate would affect their operations.

In Douglas County, as reported by the Times, the solar farm will be situated on 604 acres, with the panels themselves taking up around 218 if they were "laid edge to edge." Additionally, all but six of those acres will still have vegetation. 

Tad Kramar, who lives in Big Springs, explained in a letter to the Times how the panels would support local agriculture.

"Savion and Evergy are partnering with The Nature Conservancy to develop and administer agrivoltaics under and beside the solar panels. This will include vegetables, grazing and native pollinator-friendly plants," he wrote. "... The panels also protect crops from intense rain and hail."

Zack Pistora, a Kansas Sierra Club lobbyist, told nonprofit news platform Flatland that the solar farm is one of "the most responsible and urgent things that we can do." 

"I actually think that land is going to be able to heal itself…rather than every year being worked and worked for the agriculture," Pistora added. "We do need to take advantage of our new opportunity to harvest a new crop."

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