What is a Solar Energy Conversion System?
The term Solar Energy Conversion System is defined in the Wichita-Sedgwick County Unified Zoning Code as a commercial facility that converts sunlight into electricity, whether by photovoltaics (PV), concentrating solar thermal devices (CST), or other conversion technology, for the primary purpose of wholesale sales of generated electricity and includes all associated support facilities including, but not limited to, roads, substations, operation and maintenance buildings, as specified in the application.
What is the Issue?
The current Unified Zoning Code does not distinguish Solar Energy Conversion Systems by size/scale. This means that smaller size systems still need to meet all the same application requirements as large scale facilities.
What Are the Proposed Changes?
The proposed Unified Zoning Code updates would better align the application requirements with the scale of the proposed solar project. The code updates would distinguish between large scale and small scale Solar Energy Conversion Systems. The application requirements for large scale Solar Energy Conversion Systems would remain the same as currently adopted in the Unified Zoning Code. The code updates would reduce the application requirement for small scale Solar Energy Conversion Systems compared to the large scale projects.
Background and Process
On August 21, 2019, the Sedgwick County Board of County Commissioners approved amendments to the Unified Zoning Code creating definitions, standards, and requirements for renewable energy systems.
On April 4, 2020, the Advance Plans Committee received an update about the Planning Department intention to review the Unified Zoning Code regulations for Solar Energy Conversion Systems for the purpose of better aligning the regulations with the scale of the proposed solar project. The general consensus of the Advance Plans Committee was that a review would be appropriate.
Since early 2020, the Planning Department has reviewed the state of practice for other communities regarding solar energy conversion systems and zoning regulations. This review included Johnson and Douglas Counties.
The process outlined below is draft and subject to change. The process is largely based on the processes for similar code changes. It would involve review by:
- solar stakeholders,
- Citizen Advisory Boards,
- District Advisory Boards,
- Small cities (if desired); and
The feedback collected would be brought back to the Advance Plans Committee for a recommendation to the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission would consider making a recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners and the City Council.