There was an air of excitement in Fox Pavilion on Wednesday evening as about 300 people gathered for a free community presentation – “The Truth about Industrial Wind Energy.”
The presentation, which started at 7 p.m., was produced and presented by the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition.
“These people are not politicians, they’re not promoters of corporate business interests, they’re not even experienced public speakers,” said coalition member J.P. Michaud. “They’re simply citizens … who feel this is an issue of intense public importance and one deserving of very careful consideration.”
A variety of concerns and research was presented by 12 residents.
That was followed by three news clips filmed in U.S. locations with existing wind-development projects. The presentation was well-received; the audience applauded after each speaker.
First on the agenda was Rod Bittel, who discussed the visual effect the proposed wind development could have on the county.
The television station tower located at 27th and Hall is about 800 feet tall – about twice the size of one turbine, Bittel said.
“One of the conclusions I’ve read during some research is that almost all developers accept one fact: There is no way to soften the visual impact of these massive structures,” he said.
To help the audience visualize the project, photos of the proposed project area were taken west of Hays from the U.S. Highway 183 bypass bridge, 41st Street, and the Commerce Parkway overpass.
Several turbines were then added into the photos, based on generator locations from a tentative project map.
“This is going to be in all of our backyards,” Bittel said. “There is no doubt.”
Environmental matters also were discussed. Geologist Glenn Diehl discussed effects the proposed project could have on native wildlife.
A significant concern has been deterring the population of greater and lesser prairie chickens, both of which have been noted in the Hays area, Diehl said.
Research has suggested these endangered fowl tend to avoid large structures, he said.
“The majority of the west portion of the project area is like the Flint Hills – too rocky for farming,” Diehl said. “That’s the area still native grassland – perfect habitat for prairie chicken.”
However, prairie chickens might not be the only creatures affected, he said. There is concern the development could cause disruptions to the local ecosystem.
For one thing, birds could collide with the towering structures or waste energy trying to avoid them. This could reduce their breeding success, Diehl said.
And if winged predators such as hawks and owls begin avoiding the project site, the rodent population could increase, he said.
“Even bird species of low risk for collisions can be deterred from nesting and roosting in their normal habitats by unnatural noises and disturbances,” Diehl said. “For us hunters, where we find all those pheasants that we have right now.”
Audience members could sign up to receive a free DVD of the presentation, or endorse a moratorium petition. More than 100 signatures were collected at the event.
However, not all spectators oppose the proposed project location. Several proponents of the wind farm also were in attendance.
“It hasn’t changed my opinion of the project,” Taylor Bemis, who lives on Old U.S. Highway 40 near the project site, said of the night’s event. “I think a lot of the data they gave was either outdated or the technology has changed since some of those projects that they cited were developed.”
Also in attendance were representatives from Midwest Energy and Sunflower Electric, Competitive Power Ventures project manager Krista Gordon, and Barb Anderson, vice chairwoman of the Ellis County Planning and Zoning Committee.
“I thought it was an awesome presentation and very informative, and I think all of the board members should have come to this. I think the county commissioners should have come,” Anderson said. “I think we need to show support for the Ellis County residents. After all, they are the taxpaying people of this county.”
Anderson also attended Monday’s free public screening of “An Inconvenient Truth,” which was courtesy of CPV Wind Hays LLC. This presentation also was helpful, she said.
By Kaley Lyon
Hays Daily News
2 May 2007