The prospect of more wind turbines on Kansas prairies drew a mix of environmental groups and ranchers into a Statehouse debate Wednesday.
After hearing their testimony, House Energy and Utilities Committee took no action on House Bill 2492, which would require a new public hearing process to inform county residents of wind developers’ plans.
It also would create a new procedure for public protest petitions on wind turbine placement. The House panel could decide Friday whether to send the bill to the full House.
The legislation was introduced at the request of ranchers and two environmental groups, the Kansas Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy, expressing concerns that construction of a new Smoky Hills wind project in central Kansas would destroy landscapes and natural habitat.
“This industrial wind complex will be 16 miles long and four miles wide. It will impact the community and alter the landscape forever,” testified Ellsworth County rancher Virgil Huseman.
Another environmental group, the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club, opposed the bill along with Ellsworth and Lincoln County ranchers who have leased their land for the new wind farm planned by TradeWind Energy LLC of Lenexa.
Kansas Farm Bureau also voiced opposition.
“It is our belief that the bill as presented today would have the effect of preventing the development of wind energy in Kansas,” said Terry Holdren, Farm Bureau lobbyist.
Lincoln County farmer and rancher Richard Plinsky said the bill would infringe on property rights.
“Wind turbines are an investment in the future of energy. Private industry and willing landowners are trying to promote wind energy,” Plinsky said. “Fabricating a bill that takes the decision process away from the private landowner would be like dictating how to dress, what to drive and where to eat.”
Tom Thompson, lobbyist for the Sierra Club, which strongly supports wind-generated energy, noted the bill allows for a protest petition to be filed with the county by just 10 percent of affected landowners within 2,000 feet of a wind farm.
“That 10 percent could be just one person,” Thompson said.
A successful petition then would require 75 percent of a county commission to approve a development. Opponents pointed out that most rural county commissions have three members and that, under the bill’s petition requirements, it would take all three votes to approve such a site.
But Alan Pollom, head of the Kansas Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, advocated for the bill noting it contained guidelines on siting a wind farm to avoid environmental and community disturbance. He noted they are only recommendations for county leaders and developers to consider.
“They are not required by this bill,” Pollom said.
But the bill’s petition and public hearing provisions appeared to be the sticking point. Hoping to derail those aspects of the bill, wind energy advocate Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said after the meeting that he would propose to salvage siting recommendations by amending them into a separate bill this session.
This is the second Statehouse debate over siting of wind farms. The initial one occurred as wind developers began to eye the Flint Hills for sites a few years ago.
“We’ve fought this battle for five years, and I’m tired of it,” Sloan said.
By Sarah Kessinger
Harris News Service
15 February 2007
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding