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Opposition in Kansas: The Knoche Family Farm’s Story

In Gardener, Kansas, resident Donna Knoche attended the Johnson County Commission hearing. At 93 years of age, she set aside her walker and let out a bold statement to the committee: “I never in all my life thought I would stand up here to protect our property rights by being able to use our land legally for the best benefit of our family,” she said according to USA Today. Knoche has been living on her family farm all her life, and the farm itself has been in the family since her grandfather homesteaded in the 1860’s.

The West Gardner Solar Project is set to supply clean solar energy in Johnson and Douglas County, Kansas, bringing many economic benefits to the communities such as employment opportunities and county tax revenue. However, some residents oppose the upcoming projects, saying that the solar farms “threaten health and well-being” or “take the character from the area”. 

The Knoche family’s land is at the center of a statewide debate in Kansas, which boasts the nation’s fourth-highest wind resources and increasingly efficient solar power capabilities. The same sunlight that helps crops like corn grow is also potent enough to produce energy through solar panels. For this family, growing crops on all of their land in the near future is not a viable option, so leasing property for a solar farm would make managing it easier, generate steady revenue, ensure its availability for future farming after the lease expires, and allow the land to be passed down through generations.

“We figured it was just one of those sorts of things that you could do – like buying a house or leasing a car. You could just do it on your own and not have to deal with all this complexity,” Donna said to USA Today. However, it’s been a five-year-long battle. 

When the family decided to set their land up for solar panels, they did not anticipate much opposition, since having a solar farm meant the land couldn’t be leased for development like residential subdivision, or other uses that would significantly impact the community. The Knoches appreciated that in 30 years time, the panels could be removed and the land could be used for farming again, but their neighbors have a different perspective. A Facebook group and a website were created to protest the project. 

“We realize that renewable energy is needed to offset oil and coal,” said Carrie Brandon, chairperson for Douglas County/Johnson County Kansans for Responsible Solar. “But we have brilliant people on our planet who are constantly coming up with new energy inventions. Haste makes for waste – we can be smart about it and not just go all in on blanketing rural areas and taking agricultural land out of our inventory.” While many residents have important questions and healthy skepticism about the projects, according to USA Today, many of the reasons they cite for opposing the farms are simply not true

Doc Knoche, Donna’s husband, spoke up to the county commissioners as well– he shared that his fear isn’t that solar power will industrialize the farmland. Instead, he worries about the relentless pressure to convert farms into residential subdivisions. “Out here,” he mentioned, I think in five, ten years you’ll be glad it’s there because you’re going to be crowded out by other people.” Opposition to wind projects like the Knoche’s family farm is happening all over the county, to learn more read this informative article here.