Wind farm advocate and beneficiary Pete Ferrell had one message Thursday night for supporters of the Ellis County wind farm proposal: Make an effort to win hearts and minds now.
Before county commissioners meet to decide whether or not to approve a conditional-use permit for Iberdrola, the Spain-based company hoping to construct a wind electricity farm south and west of Hays, proponents should make a concerted effort to put at ease those who have reservations about the project.
About half of a 150-megawatt wind farm stands on and above Ferrell’s ranch in Butler County.
Ferrell chatted with about 15 supporters of the Ellis County proposal Thursday at a meeting arranged by Ellis County Supporters of Wind, a group in favor of the project.
Ferrell shared his experience with the attendees, none of whom were opponents of the Ellis County plan. He said creation of ECSW is a step that could go a long way in convincing fence-riders. The more people whose minds are settled before county officials go to vote, the smoother it will go, Ferrell said.
“The last place you want to have this conversation is in front of the commissioners, because that won’t be open, it won’t be an exchange of ideas and it damn sure won’t be friendly,” he said. “We need to stop this us-them mentality. One of the great sadnesses of my life was being in packed courtrooms … and seeing people so divided over something we should be so united over.”
Meeting attendees agreed having discussions with neighbors now will be more effective than later, so they vowed to chat, one-on-one if necessary, with those who haven’t made up their minds.
That, in a nutshell, is why ECSW was formed, said Dylan Bryant, a point man for the group. They want the best information to be available to everyone.
“Yes, we’re supporters,” said Bryant, a 2004 graduate of Hays High School now studying biology at Bethany College. But “If you’re opposed, we’re not going to hound them.”
Ferrell even expressed regret over the lack of opposition at the meeting.
“I’m a little disappointed,” he said.
The sole non-flag waving wind farmer at the meeting, was County Commissioner Dennis Pfannenstiel. His only comment: “I’m here to listen.”
Ferrell also invited the participants to bring a bus load of opponents to visit the complex on his ranch. He said he once had severe reservations about the wind farm now on his property. Those fears were eased by visits he made to ranches across North America, where he saw the turbines in action.
One visit to a wind farm on a ranch in Canada and a chat with a rancher there, in particular, helped put Ferrell at ease. Ferrell asked his Canadian counterpart about the wind farm on that ranch.
“He goes, ‘No problem. We’re doing what we have always done,’ ” Ferrell said. “If I had not flown to other farms, and seen other ranchers dealing with this, I would not have been as comfortable.”
Now, Ferrell said, he also is doing what he always has done. He’s working around the towers, and his cattle are grazing around them. The only difference he’s noticed: On a hot day, he sees his cattle standing in the shadow cast by the wind towers.
“Now we have a sun dial with the cattle,” he said.
Some at Thursday’s meeting pointed to an early May trip to Spearville in which a bus load of Ellis County residents toured the wind farm there – just like Ferrell suggests they do at his ranch. Project supporters say they can’t seem to get opponents to even listen.
Communicating the benefits is key to gaining support. That’s one reason ECSW was created, said Rachel Johnson, another group organizer. The group intends to continue to meet regularly to share ideas and provide information about wind energy.
“This is something that’s going to be with us for a long time,” Johnson said.
Ferrell also suggests painting the debate in his point of view: He sees an extremely big picture.
“The issue is about whether or not we’re going to boil ourselves alive,” he said.
Global warming is among the greatest challenges mankind has faced, Ferrell said, and wind energy could be part of the solution.
“This is gonna make the Civil War, World War II, everything pale in comparison. I guarantee you,” he said.
Reporter Will Manly can be reached at (785) 621-4515, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Talking about wind
Highlighted comments by wind farm supporter Pete Ferrell, owner of Ferrell Ranch in Butler County, a site of a similar wind farm.
• On dealing with opposition:
“People hate me now. They enjoy hating me. And I said, ‘You know what, there is something more important.’ … I’ve lost good friends over this, I’m not gonna lie. People I’ve worked side by side with, who I’ve worked calves with. Now they won’t look me in the eye and shake my hand. And that hurts.”
• On his agreement with a developer:
“They’ve kept their word 100 percent.”
• On the validity of concerns about the Ellis County proposal:
“I get that. They’re afraid, and they don’t understand.”
• On noise:
“I can hear the turbines from my home, and I didn’t expect to (Ferrell’s home is 1 mile from the nearest wind turbine). The odd thing is that I can hear it on days when it’s not blowing that hard. When it’s blowing hard, the wind covers the sound. It sounds like a river in the distance.”
• On construction of the wind farm:
“It was very hard. OK, it was a nightmare. Thank God it was professional done and it was over in six months.”
• On the condition of county roads:
“The county roads were destroyed during construction. (But) they now are better than they have been in 10 years. They re-graveled every inch of that road. So that’s gotta be part of your agreement.”
• On headaches caused by the turbines:
“Nobody ever really thought of that one. That was way out of the blue.”
• On whether or not the turbines are dangerous:
“They are absolutely not dangerous.”
• On television reception in the project:
“You will have TV interference, so you will have to address it.”
• On county commissioners:
“You couldn’t pay me to be a county commissioner. They were escorted from meetings by police. It got hot, and those guys stood their ground. I saw courage on a very local level.”
By Will Manly
21 June 2007
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