A judge has blocked a proposed wind farm for northern Sumner County.
In a ruling released on Thursday, Sept. 28, District Court Judge William R. Mott ruled in favor of numerous plaintiffs seeking to block the Argyle Creek Wind Farm, a 14,000-acre wind farm that would have been built in northern Sumner County between Conway Springs, Clearwater, Belle Plaine and Wellington.
The wind farm would have consisted of 60 to 65 commercial wind turbines, each 500 feet tall. Invenergy LLC, had reached lease agreements with dozens of land owners in the area. Invenergy requested a zoning change and a conditional use permit in September 2016. A conditional use permit generally is needed when a person or company seeks to use land in a way that is not specifically permitted or prohibited in zoning regulations.
On Dec. 7, the Sumner County Planning Commission voted 5-3 to deny the zoning change and the conditional use permit. But on Dec. 27, the Sumner County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 in favor of the zoning change and the conditional use permit.
The county’s zoning regulations (Article VII, Section 3, Paragraph 12) state, “The following uses may be allowed by conditional use permit when submitted, reviewed and approved by the Planning Commission and Governing Body and subject to conditions as the Planning Commission and Governing Body may impose.”
That list of uses includes a commercial wind farm.
The plaintiff’s attorney, Jerry Hawker, argued that words “…approved by the Planning Commission and Governing Body…” means that both the planning commission and county commissioners needed to approve the zoning changes and conditional use permit.
The county argued that the planning commission is strictly a recommending body with no actual legislative power, and therefore the county commissioners’ vote should stand.
Judge Mott agreed with the plaintiffs. His ruling states, in part, “The County Regulations clearly require a positive recommendation from the Planning Commission and the approval of the Governing Body before a Conditional Use Permit is issued. To rule otherwise overlooks the plain meaning of the words expressed in the regulations and the County’s rule of interpretation expressed therein.”
In addition, the ruling states “…the Court finds that because the Planning Commission recommended against the Conditional Use Proposal, the County Commission lacked jurisdiction to approve it, and its resulting decision is void.”
In a written statement, Hawker said the plaintiffs were pleased with Mott’s decision.
“This decision was not about wind power. It was about the limited power of a local government to make a decision unless there is compliance with the Regulations, and about the power of the district court to review the legality of decisions like these. These procedures are in place to protect all of us, because the next zoning case might affect you.”
What Invenergy will do next is not known.
“We are in the process of assessing the ruling and have not yet made a decision on the next steps for the project. We appreciate the ongoing support for the project from our participating landowners,” said Patrick Whitty in an email to the Star-Argosy. Whitty is chief of staff and director of corporate communications at Invenergy.
The Argyle Creek Wind Farm would have involved a roughly $525 million investment by Invenergy. Had construction proceeded as planned, the farm would have been online by December 2018.
South-central Kansas has seen several wind farms constructed. The Slate Creek Wind Farm stretches from the south edge of Wellington to Geuda Springs, in the southeast part of Sumner County. Built by Great Plains Energy, the parent company of Kansas City Power and Light, it began operations in 2015. The Flat Ridge 2 Wind Farm covers parts of Harper, Kingman, Pratt and Barber counties. It opened in 2012 and was constructed by BP Wind.
Invenergy is a global company with operations in wind, solar, natural gas and energy storage. It has wind farms all over the United States, including one near Hays and another near Woodward, Okla.
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