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Regulation of Commercial Solar Farms

These are notes from a recent Town Hall meeting on 11/16/2023 regarding proposed commercial solar farms in Sedgwick County, Kansas. Many of the regulations for commercial renewable energy installations are made through zoning decisions. Though you may not live in Sedgwick County, this may become an issue where you live.

Thanks goes to Mary Ann Harmon who researched and wrote the following article.


Sedgwick county has a six-month moratorium on utility (commercial) solar farms (USF) that began September 2023. On November 16th, the entities involved in planning convened a town hall to take comments from all the shareholders on whether there should be such utilities in the county, and, if so, how they should be regulated. The meeting was attended by well over 100 people from various governing and regulatory groups, and members of the public, some of whom will be living near the proposed USF between Colwich and Maize. There are many issues to consider when deciding to site and regulate any utility.

Location, Location, Location

The location of the proposed USF is adjacent to a power plant that is being decommissioned. This provides a huge advantage, as most, if not all the transmission lines that are required for a utility are already in place.

Installing a new transmission line system for a utility can cost upwards of half a billion dollars. Here is an interview regarding the difficulty of siting transmission lines: Transition to clean energy is happening faster than you think-reporter-says October 5 2023 NPR

Residents of the area believe that the property is too valuable to put it to an ‘unsightly’ solar farm. They say this will prevent the growth of their towns.

There are calls to utilize rooftops to prevent some of the issues listed below, and this has validity. Arguments for USFs point to the economies of scale, the ability to use panels that will follow the sun, etc. But the current, dire situation calls for both rooftop and USFs.


There are concerns that a solar farm can produce a lot of glare. Fortunately, there is new technology that can totally eliminate glare to protect against danger to airline pilots or drivers approaching from an elevation. It also prevents ‘lake effect’ when birds see reflections off the panels, and dive down, intending to land. This can result in the bird’s injury or death.

Long term commitment: The contract for the property will be for 35 years, with an option to renew for another 35 years. This presents a plethora of opportunities for failure. There is a history of corporations establishing a USF, only to sell it to other companies later, resulting in a facility that is not well managed. Appropriate regulation with penalties at the local level could ameliorate this problem.

Environmental concerns

. Sourcing of materials: Materials for and construction of panels vary greatly. It is essential that all solar panels, especially in our neighborhoods, be made carefully for robust service, and with materials that are responsibly sourced to reduce impacts to the environment and society. It is prudent and responsible to prevent sources that use slave labor, seabed mining, wildly unsafe manufacturing processes, and other unsustainable practices.

·      Greenhouse gases:  Solar panels are not without cost to the environment, but a much better alternative to fossil fuels. A 2023 article by CNET states: “…when it comes to greenhouse gases, solar panels pay for themselves within one to four years of use, according to a report by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “Pros and Cons of Solar Panels: Are they worth it?” Written by Katie Collins, Eric Mack Updated Aug. 9, 2023

·      Land Use: The property in Sedgwick County under contract for the USF is very fertile ground, not ideal for use by solar panels only. However, the county has identified possible co-uses. The land under and around the panels can be used for plants helpful to pollinators. Certain vegetable crops thrive in lower sun settings, and so can use the shade of the panels. Sheep have also been grazed successfully in these facilities. We cannot forgo this opportunity to utilize this ground. Here is an excellent article on solar farms and biodiversity: Solar farms are often bad for biodiversity — but they don’t have to beYes, we can have clean energy and tortoises too.”

·      Precious local water: The proposed USF is poised above the Equus beds, vital to the drinking water supplies of Wichita and surrounding communities. Whether these panels, and the associated equipment, could affect that water must be examined as part of an environmental impact study. The metals inside the panels can cause contamination if the panels are damaged, so any ongoing operating regulations of such a farm need to include regular inspection.

Economic concerns

The proposed site is under contract with a huge international corporation, and there are rumors that the operation will be run as a Limited Liability Corporation, or LLC. LLCs are very difficult to hold accountable under law. There are also concerns that much of the money brought into and being earned by the LLC will not benefit the local economy, especially after the initial build. Such a utility requires very little labor to operate, while occupying a large swath of land.

Power generated here will be sold on the market, just as most utilities. Electricity could be transmitted to other states, depending on demand. Kansas has a history of profiting from and shipping excess to other locations, being the breadbasket of the continent.

Threat from hail, tornadoes, straight winds is not to be ignored. But these threats will only increase if we do not reduce the fossil fuel emissions that have thrown our earth into greater and greater extremes. Most of those extremes have been impacting other areas. That does not reduce our responsibility to create clean energy with the resources at hand, just the same way Kansas has provided wheat to famine areas.

The only Kansas incentives for solar power generation are a moratorium on property tax on the land in use for a10-year period after construction. As it has been pointed out, these incentives are not available in Oklahoma, but Oklahoma has different incentives for solar generation that do not fit the plans Invenergy have. But most states have some method in place to attract renewable energy. See the incentives here: “Financial Information: Funding, Incentives, Tax Breaks, and Programs” Agrisolar Warehouse

There are, of course, federal monies for this project thru the Inflation Reduction act. Full regulation of these projects is good stewardship of the taxpayer dollars, the land entrusted to us, and the water below it.


A 2020 Harvard Business Review article states: “First Solar is the sole U.S. panel manufacturer we know of with an up-and-running recycling initiative, which only applies to the company’s own products at a global capacity of two million panels per year. With the current capacity, it costs an estimated $20–$30 to recycle one panel. Sending that same panel to a landfill would cost a mere $1–$2. ‘There must be regulations in place, perhaps contributions to a recycling fund over time to ensure that the panels are properly handled at the end of their useful lives. Technology to recycle solar panels advances daily.

Even though this is decades in the future, there must also be thought about what state the land must be in after the solar panels have been removed.

So much to consider! How can we make this work for everyone? The main issues to be considered are size, setbacks, decommissioning, payment in lieu of taxes, and rules and regulations that define best practices in this type of zoning case. These are very complex issues that requires much study, caution, and input from the public!

Additional information

The Town Hall meeting was recorded and is available on YouTube here.

Solar ‘farm’ proposed for rural Sedgwick County by Craig Andres, March 28, 2023, Wichita Eagle (simplified article)

Commercial solar projects in Sedgwick County? Residents weigh in at townhall meeting by Matthew Kelly, Wichita Eagle November 17, 2023 (simplified article)

Photos of the posters from the Town Hall Forum by Randi Thimesch

Photos: The Growth of Solar-Power Stations by Alan Taylor, The Atlantic, Nov. 27, 2023

The information is from the 316 United newsletter and reflects the author’s personal opinions. Its intent is to provide interested people with different touch points to consider. This is a complicated subject which deserves your personal research. 

316 United is an Environmental Conservation Organization, whose goal is “Uniting people for sustainability”. Follow: See all

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