The following were the primary questions asked by the public or Reno County Commissioners of NextEra Energy officials on Tuesday morning, in connection with a proposed wind farm in Reno County, followed by with company’s answers:
Q. If you get government subsidies to start this, isn’t that contribution coming from us? When the subsidies quit someday, can you just walk away and who gets hung up with this?
A. This is not a boom and bust business. It doesn’t depend on commodity prices. The contracts we have are for at least 20 years, if not longer, to procure the energy. We’re not going to cut the number of turbines in half and run have. There is no commodity risk it will suddenly stop.
Q. How big a footprint is required for a turbine?
A. The footprint is 80 feet in diameter for one turbine, plus setback requirements and roads.
The county requires a minimum 500-foot setback from roads and homes for a turbine, or the height of the turbine plus 50 feet, whichever is larger, said County Planner Mark Vonachen.
The company, however, has its own policies requiring a minimum 1,400 square foot setback from all homes and property lines of participating properties, and no closer than 1,000 feet from a non-participating residential structure.
The same setback applies whether a property is zoned or unzoned.
We will not overhang into a non-participating landowner that is within the company’s internal setback rules.
The setback for transmission lines, however, is different, based on 1 ½ times the height of the transmission line tower. Maximum tower heights are usually 125 to 130 feet.
Q. When you say the company will have 100 percent site control, is that the 80 feet and road or the whole parcel of ground? If I’m within 1,400 feet, am I limited on what I can build on my property?
A. It includes all setbacks required for the turbines “and process,” Jenkins said. The land, however, can still be used by the landowner for grazing, crops or hunting, except within the footprint of the turbine.
The representatives did not directly answer the second part of the question. The News is awaiting a further response from the company.
Q. Who will receive notice of public hearings before the Reno County Planning Commission and County Commission on conditional use permit applications?
A. Every property within 1,000 feet of the edges of property the company seeks a permit for, including any adjoining properties that are within the un-zoned portions of the county. “We’ll generate concentric circles and then send notices to every property within 1,000 feet of that parcel,” Vonachen said. If the neighboring property is in Sedgwick County, however, they will not be notified, he said. A legal notice also will be published in The Hutchinson News.
Q. You use the term charitable contributions. Does that include taxes paid?
A. No, that is separate. If we recognize a school or a fire station is in need of assistance, the whole team is dedicated to recognizing those and assisting where we can. It is truly a charitable contribution determined by our company.
Q. Who is responsible if Bald Eagles or geese are killed by turbines? Will lights and noise from the turbines affect turkey and deer populations? Are you going to say you don’t allow hunting because you don’t want anyone shooting at your towers? Are you willing to say you will never, ever affect hunting on my property?
A. The last thing we want to do as a company is harm eagles. We as a company have nothing to gain by taking eagles. It’s a huge concern for the company and we have large internal teams dealing with how to avoid and minimize avian takes.
We spend months and months on siting with the sole purpose of looking for avian flightpath around or near our sites. We have our technicians, when they visit, do two concentric circles around the site to search for any avian injuries, whether bats, non-raptors or raptors. If a technician finds an avian strike, we send off a report to a third party.
In Pratt County, we have Whooping Cranes that might come through, since it’s in the Central Flyway. If there is any chance they are in the area, we will shut down parts of the farm. Each is on a case-by-case basis.
The on-site manager of the Kingman windfarm says he hunts around turbines, including deer, quail and turkey, and has never seen an impact on wildlife.
We generally don’t have hunting language in our agreements, Jenkins said, but we can add language in support of that. It can be negotiated with a landowner if that is a concern.
It’s common sense. We’ve don’t want tree binds attached to the base of our towers, and we don’t want feeders at the base of the towers. During hunting season, our technicians wear reflective gear. Other than that, a lessee can hunt the property.
Q. In the livestock industry, if there’s face flies or sucking insects they can affect the gain on cattle by one or two pounds. Do they have studies saying the hum and lights will not negatively affect gains on livestock? Will this affect the value of grassland and pasture? If I want to then sell my property or pass it on to the next generation, instead of $3,000 an acre will I only get $1,200 an acre? Are we in the process of choosing winners and losers?
A. We have plenty of data, historical information for Kansas for years that show cows are not affected. We do have such landowners participating. If someone has a cattle concern, we are more than willing to set up a conversation, to speak to someone else.
As far a property values, we have six properties in Kansas and have projects across the country. We have data on this. Most of it is public and it demonstrates values have not been affected. This is information we’re more than willing to share.
Q. We’ve heard your seeking leases that are as much as 96 years. With the change in technology, the life of the average farm is 20 to 25 years. Does that leave it open when technology changes that you can come in and upgrade without having to change the lease? Can you come in and say ‘Solar is more economical than wind,’ and tear down the windmill and put in solar panels so I can’t farm? Is there any negotiation after the lease is signed?
A. If it is a 50-year lease, the company has the option of extending that. We can go back after 50 years and extend it another 20 if the project is profitable.
Each contract can be done case by case, but the way most contracts are set, as it gets near the end of the lease, the property owner is given notice of intent of an extension option or not.
Leases are transferable. It stays with the surface rights of the property if it is sold or passed to another family member.
If a 2.5 MW turbine is replaced with a larger generating turbine, the way the contract is set up, it guarantees landowners payments will rise with the number of megawatts produced, so they are not locked into a static agreement.
Solar is a completely different agreement. It would be illegal for us to come in where he have an agreement for wind and building solar. If it’s not part of the contract or agreement we can’t do it.
Q. If I do a lease and they put five towers on my property, but the energy business changes and they decided to use only two or three, do I still get a lease on five? If they quit using them, does the lease stop?
A. The lease agreements are paid on the size of the turbines, regardless of whether they are generating electricity or not.
Q. When its property tax time, after the 10 years free tax expires, who is taxed? I visited a man in Kingman County and a man in Harper County, and the tax bill goes to the wind farm in Harper County, but it’s tacked onto the taxes of the property owner in Kingman County and they have to ask for reimbursement.
A. Our agreement says we are responsible for those taxes. It’s up to the coordination between the company and tax assessor to come with how payment is made, but normally speaking, a landowner will not see it on their property tax bill. We will have a prior agreement with the assessor.
Q. What percent of the wind farm will be in the zoned and unzoned areas? If it comes into the unzoned, do I have voice legislatively of any kind to stop this?
A. The specific sites have not been determined. The general location was determined by wind maps that show speeds at 80 to 100 meters. There are significant wind sources in the southeast corner of the county. The wind maps are public and can be found online.
In the unzoned area, the county has no authority whatsoever, Vonachen said. There are no public hearings, no board meetings, nothing anyone can do. They can go in today and start building, and they can choose to put it on the property line or next to a house. There is no authority to say where they can put (towers.) Even if abutting a zoned area, the county has no authority to impose setbacks from the zoned area.
Q. I put in my own runway. What will that do to me and other aviators that want to come out here?”
A. We encounter private runways quite often. We’re more than happy to discuss with landowners about runways. Those issues are a large concern for us. It’s nothing new and we’re happy to work it through.
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