A proposed solar farm on the east side of Kane County has some nearby residents not feeling sunny!

The approximately 4500 acres of land is owned by the School and Institutional Trust Lands Association, often referred to as SITLA. Properties that they hold are piece-mealed across public lands in Utah. On any given map, of many Utah counties, there will be small squares of land that were designated to benefit schools. The SITLA powers that be look at their value, and trade or sell them, or make long-term deals that hopefully benefit Utah school children.

When the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was designated, some school trust lands were eventually traded out of the mix, since the School Trust lands within the monument would not have much potential for earning capital. Some of those parcels were exchanged for land held between Big Water and Church Wells.

That means that SITLA owns the land where the proposed solar farm will be built, and they have ultimate control on what happens on that land. While SITLA has had an interesting past, it’s ultimate focus is supposed to be what would best benefit Utah’s (under-financed) school system.

That background leads us to what’s happening in Church Wells.

The 4500 acres of land in question is owned by SITLA. While the project is under construction, the lease agreement with Sustainable Power Group (sPower) is $20 per acre. That would mean during construction, it would bring in about $90,000

When the solar plant is online, it’s estimated to be worth about $750,000 a year. But how much revenue SITLA will get from the profit has not been confirmed.

Church Wells resident Connie Kirk says while she’s not against solar power and supports alternative energy – it’s not that appealing in your own backyard! “I’m concerned about several things,” said Kirk, “the area’s scenic beauty, wildlife, dust during construction, and noise.” (She explained the panels are on rotating motors that are always running.) “I’m also worried about the fungus in the soil out here being disturbed and causing Valley Fever.”

sPower applied for a conditional use permit to Kane County in May of this year. The county approved the first phase without issue. This allowed approval for two sections of the project to be developed between Big Water and Church Wells. Local residents felt that they should have been notified.

Shannon McBride, Kane County Land Use Administrator, requested a public informational meeting to educate local residents on the issue. That was held on September 14 to a packed house. Garrett Bean, SPower representative, presented a slideshow on the project and said his company looks at the impacts of wildlife and the environment. He said their reasoning for the project location was that it was the best place to get water, electricity, and accessibility. He said his company is complying with the Kane County Land Ordinance to mitigate any negative affects of noise, glare, dust and other impacts.

There will be approximately 200 construction jobs for one year for the project, and they hope to utilize 85% as local hires. The sPower plant will power approximately 130,000 homes, and will most likely be sold to California.

People during the public meeting expressed issues of concern to them, such as negative effect on tourism, dust during construction, fire prevention, and water demands. On the water issue, Garrett said that they needed to evaluate the water resources in the area to determine the water usage and amount.

McBride said she has given sPower 51 conditions to mitigate, and that the Fire Warden must approve fire suppression methods, as well as emergency shutdown procedures, before they can receive building permits. Sheriff Tracy Glover, Chief Deputy Alan Alldredge and the Fire Warden will have to sign off on all procedures/protocols. McBride said that the P&Z Commission can add more conditions if needed.