Bird strikes, property values and environmental impact were some of the issues voiced at the Pratt County Planning Board public hearing Monday night for NextEra’s second application to establish a wind generating farm in Pratt County.
About 150 were in attendance at the Pratt County Fairgrounds as David Gil, NextEra Energy Resources project director, laid out in great detail the Ninnescah Wind project that would put 121 wind generators in the southeast quadrant of the county that will generate 200 mega watts of renewable energy.
At the beginning of the meeting, new board member Doug Freund disqualified himself because of a conflict of interest. New board member Brad Swisher said his uncle had property in the proposed area but it had no turbine so he could serve on the board without a conflict of interest.
A second night of the public hearing was held Wednesday night. A third night, originally scheduled for Thursday, has been rescheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 26.
At the end of the public hearing, the board will vote on the application. If they accept the application, it will go to the County Commissioners for final action.
Pratt County was chosen as a site because of the abundance of wind in the area.
“It’s some of the best wind resources we’ve seen in the United States,” Gil said.
If the $388 million project is approved, NextEra plans to start construction in March and be fully operational by December. The project will create an estimated 770 jobs including 250 jobs for development and construction along with hundreds of indirect jobs. When completed, the project will create between 15 and 20 permanent jobs for the 30-year life span of the wind farm, Gil said.
The project involves 50 landowners that will receive an estimated $50 million in land usage payments.
A $20 million payment to the county is planned in lieu of taxes. This money can benefit schools, provide lower taxes, enhance county roads and emergency services, Gil said.
NextEra is also in conversation with Pratt Community College about a possible wind technology course.
All land involved in the project is used with the cooperation of the landowners. No eminent domain was used.
The project will have 121 wind generators each 431 feet tall. Each generator requires one to two acres with farming and grazing available up to the base of each tower.
Crops do better around wind generators because they help prevent freeze and frost and extend the growing season.
Aerial application of herbicides or pesticides should not be a problem because application is done when winds are calm and the turbines won’t be running.
During construction, common sense modifications will be made when unexpected elements show up during construction. He has five extra sites that can also be used if a problem arises, Gil said.
Electricity will be sent to a new substation in Sedgwick County via a new 61-mile power line. Property agreements are in already in place for 60 miles of the power line.
NextEra has signed a 20-year contract to sell 200 mega watts to Westar. The energy is expected to go to Kansas.
Some 18 roads in Pratt County will be affected during construction. The road use agreement insures roads will be left in good or better condition than they were found. Boring will be used for any lines that have to go under roads.
Following an archeological reconnaissance of the site, the State Historic Preservation Office has determined there would be no adverse effect on property.
Thanks to a Tetra Tech study that focused on wetlands, the project was able to avoid sensitive areas.
“We don’t want to be building on wetlands,” Gil said.
Bird and bat monitoring is done during the first year of operation to track mortality rates.
Tetra Tech did endangered species survey and determined two plant and 14 animal species fell in the area. Of those species, 12 were in the low or unlikely problem level. Whooping cranes and bald eagles could be an issue although the survey found no bald eagles in the area, Gil said.
The Ninnescah Wind Energy project has been in development since 2008. In October 2003 BP presented the initial proposal. In December 2013 NextEra purchased the BP leases In 2015, NextEra conducted study, survey, site plans, engineering design, right of way and so on. Also in 2015, NextEra signed a power purchase with Westar.
Lori Nielsen, research biologist for West Environmental & Statistical Consultants, presented material on potential danger to whooping cranes. Using U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plus Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism models, it was found no whooping crane fatalities had occurred in wind farm sites. No bald eagles were verified.
Brad Swisher, planning board member, wanted to know if there was any surge in bird deaths and if they declined.
Jim Lindsey, NextEra Energy resources project manger/principal biologist said there is usually no change but there are fluctuation and birds don’t get used to it.
Andrew Barker, senior appraiser for Valbridge Property Advisors, conducted an impact study on property values in areas with wind farms. The study revealed the variation on property was not “statistically significant.”
Area resident Jan Parsons asked if they had done any property valuations on Pratt County residences and Barker said no and on site in the study, not every home was appraised.
Christopher Ollson, senior environmental health scientist for Ollson Environmental Health Management, presented information from 60 case studies on health risks from audible and low frequency sound waves. Studies indicated no health risks from either type of wave. Measurements taken were well below any guidelines, Ollson said.
As far as electromagnetic waves from the high voltage power lines, each generator has a 2,500 feet setback from any house and no problems were indicated. No problems were found from generator noise as well.
Planning Board member Fred Newby said there were revised studies including more information on bald eagles and gold eagles. He said there was also an effort by the Obama administration to accept more bird strike fatalities.
Newby also said he had talked to people living in wind farm areas and their property values had gone down. Barker said he used data from Kansas State University and had talked to a lot of brokers and there was no effect on the utility of the land.
Planning Board member Morgan Trinkle had concerns about the flicker effect that happens at sunrise and sunset when the blades cause a flicking effect that might impact epileptics. Ollseon said the turbines spin slow enough that it would not be an issue.
Ken Brunson, former Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism employee, said Tetra Tech had done a good job and used good science but had not adequately covered the danger to overwintering birds and had incomplete data. He also said two colonies of bats in the area had been missed in the project area.
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