Johnson County could soon be home to Kansas’ largest solar farm

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. — Pending approval from county leaders, Johnson County could soon be home to the largest solar farm in the state of Kansas.

NextEra Energy, a Florida-based energy company, has expressed interest in developing a $320 million solar farm in the southern part of the county.

According to NextEra Energy’s website, the proposed project would require approximately 3,500 acres of land to establish the West Gardner Solar project. The proposed solar farm would generate up to 320 Megawatts (MW) of electricity.

NextEra Energy Resources Spokesperson Conlan Kennedy said the company is still in the early planning stages for the project. 

“Right now what we are focused on is speaking with area land owners, engaging with community stake holders and trying to speak with landowners and gauge their interest in participating in the project,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said the project is slated for the southeast portion of unincorporated Johnson County, but he would not specify the exact location. 

“When we are developing an innovative solar project like the West Gardner Solar project, we look for several key characteristics,” Kennedy said. “One of those is an evaluation of the amount of solar resources in the region. Another really important component is proximity to existing power lines. This project has both of those.”

Jay Leipzig, director of planning, housing and community development for Johnson County, said the county has regulations in place for individual solar installation on homes, but the current code would not cover a project this size. 

“The problem is our current regulation, our comprehensive plan and our subdivision regulations do not address these type of installations at all. This is new territory,” Leipzig said.

Leipzig said the county has hired The Berkley Group consulting firm to help review and propose potential amendments to the county code to specify regulations for this proposed project. All amendments would need to be approved by the Johnson County Board of Commissioners. 

Rendering of proposed project. Photo courtesy of Johnson County

Leipzig said county staff is currently working to address the environmental impact of the proposed project. He said staff is reviewing things like noise production, potential impact to wildlife and how the project would affect the long-term plans of the surrounding cities within the county. 

“We are kind of wrestling between the use in the county as an unincorporated area and rural versus the future use 15 years from now. What that will look like and ensuring that it’s compatible. That the land use patterns are consistent and that it’s complementary to what the cities are doing,” Leipzig said.

Leipzig said the proposed project could potentially operate for 30-40 years. 

According to NextEra Energy’s website, the proposed project would generate approximately $10 million in revenue for Johnson County during the first 20 years of operation. Kennedy said currently NextEra doesn’t have any intention to request financial support from the county for this project, but the project could bring jobs to the area.

“The project would create approximately 250 construction jobs. Additionally local businesses would have opportunities to supply materials to support the construction process,” Kennedy said. 

NextEra Energy anticipates submitting a formal project application to the county later this fall. If the solar project is approved by county leaders, construction is estimated to last six months to a year. Kennedy said the goal would be to have the solar farm operational by December 2023.

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