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Steel Flats neighbor not impressed

When wind blows with force on the Great Plains, it’s loud enough to drown out the sound made by giant wind turbines.

But on a day of light wind, conditions that make you want to go outdoors, Randy Saathoff said, that’s when turbines can be annoying.

Under these low wind speeds, a turbine creates sort of a “woosh.” And it seems like the wooshes will never end.

“When the wind is in the west, we don’t hear it,” he said, referring to the turbine east of his farmstead. When the wind is blowing out of the east or south, “It’s almost like when you’ve got cars going by.”

Besides the noise factor, Saathoff said he now keeps his drapes pulled to block out the turbine’s bright blinking nights in the evening.

Saathoff is no fan of the 44-turbine wind farm known as Steele Flats, stretching from Jefferson into Gage county just north of the Kansas state line. While the incentives of making $9,000 a year per turbine enticed enough landowners to sign up with NEXTera, Saathoff didn’t bite.

He felt strongly enough about a wind farm’s collateral effect that on March 26 he made the roughly 200-mile round trip from his home south of Diller, to Brainard, where landowners held a meeting in response to NEXTera’s Jubilee project, which would bring as many as 110 turbines in an area stretching from Bellwood to Valparaiso. NEXTera is in the process of seeking cooperative landowners, and has signed easement options with about a dozen, all in Butler County.

Saathoff said the company didn’t get far with him.

“There were too many strings attached for no more money than you got out of it,” he said in a phone interview.

Saathoff acknowledged that there may be stretches of sparsely populated places in the plains where 400-foot tall turbines would go largely unnoticed, perhaps in the vast wheat fields of southwest Kansas. But in corn and soybean country, the developers’ conditions and the turbine’s interference with farming operations didn’t sound like a benefit over the long haul.

A couple of examples: Crop sprayers are not fond of flying through a wind farm, he said, because pilots are concerned about seeing the blades when they come out of a sweep across a field. The planes might need to spray only one way instead of two, increasing the cost, and the increased liability may also drive up the cost.

If alfalfa weevils or fungus can’t be treated by “floaters” on land because of muddy conditions or by air, because of wind turbines, he said, the decrease in yield can cost as much as the annual turbine payment. And although he doesn’t have any turbines on his land, he said it’s likely that a couple of his fields will be off limits to crop spraying planes because they are close to turbines on neighboring lands.

And like some other developments in rural areas, such as school mergers or the influx of large livestock operations, the wind farm development pitted those who signed with NEXTera against those who didn’t.

The result was neighbors and family members less friendly than they were before.

“You know, if their cows get out you are neighborly and you call them. You’d help them get (cows) back in. But as far as going out of the way to chit chat with them, that type of deal has kind of ended,” Saathoff said.

The impact of the turbines on property tax revenue is also a big draw for some, but Saathoff said the ultimate value is watered down when the tax revenue is split between school districts, counties and other entities.

Saathoff acknowledged some people would speak favorably of the wind farm that started up 18 months ago.

“The only ones who would say that are the ones getting money out of it,” he said.

The landowners who signed up, he said were 80 percent absentee landowners who don’t have to live next the turbines, or those who inherited the land they own.