Jackson County Commission gathers input ahead of vote on 18-month solar farm moratorium

Controversy simmers around idea of building a 2,000-acre solar installation

By: - November 7, 2022 9:09 pm
Opponents of a proposed 2,000-acre solar farm in Jackson County rise up Monday to show county commissioners those eager for imposition of an 18-month moratorium on consideration of new solar projects. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Opponents of a proposed 2,000-acre solar farm in Jackson County rise up Monday to show county commissioners those eager for imposition of an 18-month moratorium on consideration of new solar projects. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

HOLTON — Terry Kaufman wears opposition on his shirt and his cap to development of a 2,000-acre solar energy facility on rolling hills in Jackson County.

Kaufman, who handed out yellow “no solar” pins ahead of a public meeting Monday on the issue, said he supported imposition by the Jackson County Commission of an 18-month moratorium on consideration of applications for utility-grade solar. Commissioners listened to a couple dozen people eager to share clashing perspectives, but didn’t vote on a pause that would give them time to study zoning regulations applicable to solar projects.

“My own idea is this whole solar proposition probably doesn’t have long term viability,” said Kaufman, who viewed with skepticism the future of an energy sector so reliant for profitability on tax credits.

A majority of those speaking out in the Jackson County Courthouse were supportive of a temporary moratorium or an outright rejection of any solar proposal that would transform the aesthetic of a rural countryside, depress residential property values and align the county to “unreliable green energy.” One critic suggested the commissioners would be wise to embrace a decade-long prohibition on solar farms in the county.

Terry Kaufman works on distributing yellow pins expressing opposition to solar farms in Jackson County ahead of a meeting Monday for public comment on plans by NextEra Energy Resources to locate solar arrays on 2,000 acres in the county. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Terry Kaufman worked to distribute yellow pins expressing opposition to construction of large solar farms in Jackson County ahead of a meeting Monday for public comment on plans by NextEra Energy Resources to locate solar arrays on 2,000 acres in the county. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

People in the crowd eager for approval of the solar project pointed to an influx of several hundred construction jobs, expansion of the county’s property tax base and transition to a clean energy alternative.

“I’m okay with having solar,” said Jackson County farmer Gary Watkins. “I’m definitely for it. We’re going to have to go to clean energy.”

Ed Kathrens, chairman of the county commission, said a vote on the moratorium related to accepting applications and permit requests for commercial solar projects would take place in a week or 10 days.

A subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, a Florida company with thousands of employees and annual revenue in the billions of dollars, is working in Jackson County on environmental surveys and lease agreements for land suitable for hosting solar arrays, transmission lines and substations. The company proposed a comparable project in Johnson and Douglas counties, where officials in those counties approved regulations allowing construction of big solar farms.

NextEra became a known commodity in Kansas during the past two decades through investment of $2.9 billion in wind facilities in nine counties.

John Felitto, project developer for NextEra’s solar endeavor in Jackson County, said during remarks to the commission the company wouldn’t apply for a permit for the project until May 2024 or until the county approved new solar regulations.

“We hope that this provides plenty of time for the commission to be deliberate in its process of drafting detailed, thoughtful regulations,” Felitto said.

He said NextEra was drawn to Jackson County because of its ample solar resource, land topography as well as proximity to transmission networks and electric demand. A solar development would provide steady income to landowners and millions of dollars in tax revenue to the county, he said.

Once approved by the county government, Felitto said, a solar project could be built in 12 months to 18 months. The construction phase would include building roads and transporting, erecting, testing and commissioning solar panels. Power produced by the solar units would be moved to the Southwest Power Pool, which includes Kansas and other states.

Tom Hoffman, who owns 160 acres and had been approached by a NextEra subsidiary about leasing land, said the company was interested in deploying a new style of solar array. He urged commissioners not to get caught up in the economic development whirlwind: “Let’s not be the guinea pig.”

David Anderson, an electrician from Circleville, said there was no reason for the county to pivot to a moratorium. The rulemaking process could be completed without such a long disruption, he said.

“This is really about jobs and progress,” Anderson said. “I’m sorry people are so upset.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

MORE FROM AUTHOR