Day two of the Pratt County Planning Board public hearing for the NextEra special use application to establish a wind generation farm in Pratt County brought fourth a number of concerns from citizens both in and out of the proposed wind farm area.
Wind generators are very tall structures, over 400 feet, and with 121 of them it’s going to impact the view. Where there was once only pasture and fields, tall turbines will block the view and create noise. Rick Holland said the peace and quiet and unobstructed views they have come to know would be gone. He was also concerned about the impact on migratory birds.
Wind generators take up a lot of space and spraying for crops would be a very serious issue, said Warren Sturgeon who owns a crop spraying service. His planes need a half-mile to safely turn around and in some places on the proposed turbine sites, there simply isn’t enough room. If they can’t do their job, it could cost jobs.
“This is not a good deal,” Sturgeon said. “People will get laid off.”
Aerial spraying is less expensive than other methods of spraying such as with a helicopter so it could cost land owners more to spray their fields. There is also a problem with wind drift for small aircraft as well as drifting insecticides and pesticides.
Ice falling from turbines has also been an issue as has blades falling off towers as they did in Barber County. Blades have come off wind turbines in Barber County, said Kevin Wager.
Construction creates a lot of truck traffic and that can cause roads to get into bad shape. Area resident Gary Barker was concerned about road maintenance and whom he would call if wheat harvest was underway and the roads needed maintaining.
Besides wind generators, a new high voltage power line would have to be constructed to move the electricity from the Ninnescah Wind project across Kingman County to a new substation in Sedgwick County.
Some of that land belongs to Berry Bortz who was concerned about the impact the lines would have on electric fences and drones used to inspect crops. He was curious why NextEra was already constructing a power line in Kingman County for a wind farm that has not been approved.
Following proper procedures for the application was an issue. Area resident Greg Bacon spoke on behalf of the non-participant landowners and said the original application BP made two years ago was not complete and the hearing for application shouldn’t even be happening.
Plans are not compliant, the turbine sites are not done, there is no fall or winter study on bald eagles, there is no decommission plan that has to be in place to make the application, Bacon said.
Eventually, the farm will be decommissioned and NextEra said the salvage price of the turbines would cover the cost but it would take $1 million for each turbine.
NextEra has said they would make payment to the county in lieu of paying taxes. Several, including Ken Brunson, wanted to know if they would make good on their promise.
The wind farm will create many temporary jobs during construction but they will eventually go away and locals don’t get many of those jobs, said Evan McCasky.
One property owner, Ron Betzen, said he was never contacted about wind farm and he had planned on building a log cabin on his property. This lack of communication showed a lack of respect.
With all the recent earthquake activity in Oklahoma that has been felt in Pratt, there has been no study on earthquake impact on wind generators, said Ed Petrowsky.
Several spoke positively about the project. Former resident Margene McFall-Martin said she looked at this as progress to create a better way of life. It helps farmers when prices are low and it gives additional income to retired people.
Pat Brant welcomes the income from a tower and the additional money it will bring into the county. While construction does cause inconvenience, it soon goes away just as it did on the U.S. 54 expansion. No one complains about getting to Wichita faster.
Dwane DeWeese wants a tower on his property and hopes the additional tax money for the county could be used to pay for a new track and field facility.
Kent Goyen asked if the heritage in the county has been lost. Change in the past has made our forefathers more productive. The wind farm electricity will not stay here but farmers produce so much product they can’t use it all and it goes to other places.
Several NextEra people addressed these issues.
Tricia Hale, NextEra project director for wind development, spoke with Sturgeon about the crop spraying issue and said they would work with them to help solve the issues. The generator can actually be turned if necessary to give crop planes more clearance. They can also shut the turbines off if necessary so it won’t interfere with the planes.
As far as the turnaround issue, on one example, Hale said if the plane would fly further it would clear the turbines and have ample space to turn around.
John Alderness, NextEra project and construction manager, said that a fence crew would go ahead of the project and make whatever changes in fences and gates needed to be made and put up any fences they might have to take down. They would also be available by phone if a problem arose. Maintaining the roads would be a continuous process.
Sometimes electricity does pass from transmission lines in a process called induction. However that only happens in very specific circumstances, said Jeremy Miceli, NextEra project engineer, so setting up an electric fence beneath a transmission line should be no problem.
David Gil, NextEra Energy Resources project director, covered several issues: BP submitted a decommission plan in 2013 and when NextEra bought out their leases, the plan was still in effect; there are five more turbines shown on the project map than the 121 that will be used because sometimes unexpected things are dug up a site might not be usable; one structure was missed from the air survey but it is over 2,500 feet from a tower and the survey will be corrected; also to be corrected is the number of gallons of water for the project. There was a mistake and it will not take 3.5 billion gallons but somewhere between 16 million and 30 million; NextEra has no condemnation or eminent domain authority, all leases are voluntary; NextEra has done payment in lieu of taxes before and will have a binding contract with the county; blades have fallen off generators in Barber County. It is a bonding issue that has been solved and blades on NextEra generators made during that time have been replaced.
Tim Branscom, Pratt County Planning and Zoning administrator, read several letters expressing concerns and about 50 postcards, provided by NextEra, expressing support for various aspects of the project.
Because of the amount of new information presented at the meeting, the Thursday, Jan. 21 meeting was rescheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 26 at the Pratt County Fairgrounds. The public is invited to attend. The public hearing portion of the special use application is still in session and people are welcome to make comments.
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