The issue of wind farm development in Kansas isn’t new to Hays resident and state Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Hays.
“I’ve been (in the Legislature) for 11 years and have probably received more communication on wind farms than any other single issue,” said Johnson, who has been on the Energy and Utilities committee for several years. “That’s without doing any scientific research.”
He estimated that this communication is a 50-50 split of opponents and proponents to various wind projects.
Johnson rejoined the Energy and Utilities Committee this year after a hiatus. As a similar debate swept through Lincoln and Ellsworth counties regarding development of the Smoky Hills Wind Farm, this committee conducted wind-farm related public hearings.
Overall, the concerns expressed mirror those voiced in Ellis County during recent months, he said.
However, Johnson said the concern about adverse health effects hadn’t been brought to his attention until hearing local concerns.
“Of course, I am very much interested if there is danger to the human body,” he said. “I can’t say that we need to discount psychological factors, because they can be bad also.”
As soon as he became aware of these concerns, Johnson requested a study conducted by the Kansas Legislative Research Department examining the issue.
In response, a study called “Impact of Wind Farms on Public Health” was completed May 14.
This study was intended to be a review of available information, said a source with the research department, which is a nonpartisan branch of the Legislature. It does not draw a concrete conclusion.
In accordance with the department’s media policy, names from the Legislative Research Department cannot be disclosed.
The research department first tried to obtain information from the 10 sources it refers to for health-related information, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources and the National Cancer Institute, according to the study.
This study also includes arguments both for and against wind farms and cites online studies conducted by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Kansas Corporation Commission under the “for wind farms” category.
Arguments “against wind farms” include the research of Dr. Nina Pierpont and Dr. Amanda Harry.
Aside from the study, the role of state government is limited regarding wind development. There are not statutes in place, and it likely could stay that way, Johnson said.
“I think it’s the feeling of the majority of the people on the utilities committee that it should be up to the local folks,” Johnson said. “And that’s what I’ve been saying all along here – one size does not fit all.”
Sen. Janis Lee, D-Kensington, agrees that the issue needs to be decided on a local level.
“At this point, that has been viewed as a local government issue that’s part of the zoning process,” she said.
Lee also said she had not heard of project-related health concerns before catching wind of the Ellis County debate and also requested the study from the Legislative Research Department.
Lee pointed out that state agencies in Minnesota, a state where expanded wind generation has occurred, don’t have substantial studies or reports on this issue, according to the study.
Another noticeable finding was the fact that none of the national agencies appear to have studied the issue of health affects caused by close proximity to wind turbines, she said.
“And, to me, that’s an indication that, at least from that perspective, those entities don’t see a problem,” Lee said. “I assume if they did, those entities would have done research.”
Lee said she has only received a few e-mails regarding the Ellis County project and one phone call expressing opposition, but she’s had experience with wind project legislation.
She was a member of the Assessment and Taxation Committee when legislation exempting wind developments from taxation was passed and also has heard feedback regarding wind development in the Flint Hills, she said.
Rep. Eber Phelps, D-Hays, said he also has not received extensive feedback from Ellis County constituents, but has followed the issue closely and received considerable feedback when developments were proposed in the Flint Hills area, he said.
“There was an opposition to the wind farm placement in the Flint Hills, but I’ve never heard anybody attack wind energy like I’ve seen around here,” Phelps said. “It’s been kind of puzzling to me.
“It’s been a constant barrage of things about health … I have not seen those (concerns) before until this local issue came about.”
All three politicians said that, to the best of their knowledge, no additional research is under way in addition to the review prepared to address health concerns.
Phelps said also that during his tenure in local politics, debates about other controversial issues, such as implementing the water conservation program, never sparked a dispute as heated and emotional as the current wind farm issue.
“When we had a controversial issue, both sides voiced their opinion, but they did it civilly,” he said. “I always appreciated it in local government that people would come to me, they’d state their case and we’d all go home.
“I’m not seeing that here.”
Overall, the Kansas government has taken a position in support of renewable energy – Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has established a goal to produce 10 percent of the state’s electricity from wind power by 2010, and 20 percent by 2020.
“Kansas has outstanding wind resources, and I am encouraging our utilities to take full advantage of it,” Sebelius said in a press statement. “While I asked wind developers to show voluntary constraint in the heart of the Flint Hills, state law provides that siting decisions must be made by local officials.”
By Kaley Lyon
14 July 2007
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