On November 16, 2023, the Planning Department, in coordination and with assistance from other departments, will host a Solar Power Town Hall from 4:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. at the Sedgwick County Extension Office, 7001 W. 21st Street North. Attendees will have the opportunity to share their thoughts about land use regulations for utility-scale solar energy systems.
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.
How is the Unified Zoning Code Involved?
As indicated above, Solar Energy Conversion System is a defined term in the Unified Zoning Code and is within the land use Utility, Major. The Unified Zoning Code requires a Conditional Use for Utility, Major in nearly all zoning districts. So, in order for a property owner to use their property for commercial scale solar/ Solar Energy Conversion System they would need to get a Conditional Use or custom zoning approved for the site.
What is the Issue?
On September 13, 2023, the Sedgwick County Board of Commissioners approved a moratorium for solar energy zoning applications. The moratorium remains in effect until March 20, 2024. During the moratorium, the Planning Department and Planning Commission are directed to:
- review the applicable existing Zoning Code provisions; and
- the Planning Commission is also directed to bring forward any proposed Zoning Code and/or Comprehensive Plan amendments.
What is the Process and Timeline?
The Planning Department has prepared a draft process to:
- collect public and stakeholder input,
- provide an opportunity for the Planning Commission to consider the issue and input; and
- for the Planning Commission to be able to recommend changes (if any) to the Unified Zoning Code.
Below is a draft overview of the process (subject to change). The goal is to provide any recommended changes to the Board of County Commissioners by the end of the moratorium on March 20th.
You can provide input and share your thoughts in the following ways.
• You can submit an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning DepartmentAttn: Scott Wadle271 W. 3rd Street
• You can submit a letter to the Planning Department at the following address.
Process to Date
- 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.
From April 2020 through March 2023, the Planning Department researched solar energy conversion system regulations in other communities and coordinated with the MAPC Advance Plans Committee to identify whether the existing Unified Zoning Code should be updated to better align the regulations with the scale of any proposed solar projects. During this process, the Planning Department provided updates to the Sedgwick County Association of Cities, City of Wichita District Advisory Board V, the Board of County Commissioners, and the MAPC Advance Plans Committee.
On September 13, 2023, the Sedgwick County Board of Commissioners approved a moratorium for solar energy zoning applications. The moratorium remains in effect until March 20, 2024. During the moratorium, the Planning Department and Planning Commission are directed to review the applicable existing Zoning Code provisions. The Planning Commission is also directed to bring forward any proposed Zoning Code and/or Comprehensive Plan amendments.
On October 12, 2023, the MAPC Advance Plans Committee reviewed the draft process goals, timeline, and sequence of events to fulfil the directions from the Board of County Commissioners. The committee asked questions, shared thoughts, accepted comments, and voted to receive and file the information.
- On October 26, 2023, the MAPC Advance Plans Committee reviewed the draft plans for the open house event and online survey. The Planning Department also presented findings on the state of practice for solar regulations in surrounding area counties. The committee took public comments and asked questions regarding the open house event and online survey.
Draft Size Changes to the Unified Zoning Code
What Were the Proposed Changes in Early 2023?
The early 2023 proposed Unified Zoning Code updates were created with the intent of better aligning 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. These changes have not been adopted and Planning staff can provide a timeline of events if requested.