ERIE – Citizens concerned about the Neosho Ridge Wind Project expressed some alarm on Wednesday about how close the wind turbines would be to homes.
Dustie Elsworth, rural Erie, said he and others have been in contact with Apex Clean Energy, the company proposing the wind project, in an attempt to negotiate the company’s proposed setback of 1,400 feet from homes’ foundations, not property lines. Given the proposed height of the turbines of 610 feet, based on forms filed by Apex with the Federal Aviation Administration, the group prefers at least a mile setback from properties, but said they were told by Apex it was impossible to do within the existing footprint.
Elsworth said they asked Apex about the methodology used to guarantee the noise level at 50 decibels or below and to outline how wind energy arrives at setback distances. Also, he and others asked if houses have been adversely affected, or if land values fall and, if so, how people are compensated as non-participants in the leases.
Apex officials told Elsworth they would try to plug the information into modules to see how it works. When Elsworth followed up, he said he was told by phone that they were still going to plug information into the modules to “appease our commissioners,” but that it would not work.
“I was told the reason they cannot give up any ground was because they would set a precedent for other areas they would possibly build on, so they by no means want to give up in response, because it may affect them later in this county. It may affect them in a different county,” Elsworth said.
Some counties and states have mandated a mile or more setback for construction of the wind farms to decrease negative impacts on landowners – both real and perceived – from shadow flicker to impacts of low-frequency infrasound on health to decreased property valuation.
County commissioners set up a special session at 6 p.m. Oct. 24 at Galesburg Methodist Church.
“They are doing that to try to get more people involved that are not able to come Friday mornings,” Elsworth said. “I have requested all this information be out by that commissioner’s meeting, so I am being told they will have map overlays of what a mile setback would look like. They will have the information on why they cannot do it and will have information on their methodology as to where they get 40 or 50 decibels. And they will have more in-depth conversation on setbacks at that time.”
He said he didn’t get answers to anything from Apex. He hopes that many landowners will attend the commission meetings and speak about their concerns with the project.
“I think there is a difference between a name on a dotted line and someone standing in front of them. It definitely, I think, makes a lot more impact when people are there, giving them their opinion and concerns. By no means do I think we are unable to still get a mile (setback). They asked for us to be reasonable. I presented them with a lot of information from other states and counties within those states that have.
“Greenwood, Maine, is one I’ve talked to a lot. They have a mile setback. They have infrasound ordinances, 40 decibels on noise level. I had a whole stack of examples, showing we are not being unreasonable. We may be the first county in Kansas to have these setbacks, but there are other places that have been dealing with this longer and they are increasing those setbacks.”
He said he has not seen a county board or citizens group say that a 1,400-foot setback is plenty.
“They are learning and evolving as they are figuring out the true science behind it, that 1,400 feet is way too close,” Elsworth said.
Citizens in Anderson County organized and got the proposed wind farm stopped based on information accumulated about negative issues local governments and landowners face. They demanded setbacks of 2,000 feet to protect property owners. The wind company said there could not be a viable wind project in Anderson County.
Some from Anderson County are willing to speak to Neosho County residents about their findings and reach out to others in the county with that information to help educate people with facts. Those who would like to learn more can contact the group at NotTheirAir@gmail.com. The next meeting of the Neosho County concerned citizens group will be at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, at Tony’s Function Junction.
Neosho County Commissioners will need to approve a conditional-use permit if the project moves forward. Apex would be tax-exempt for at least 10 years. They are supposed to make a payment to the county in lieu of taxes. Commissioners can request a lump sum of money within the conditional-use permit to ensure that if the company becomes insolvent, the turbines will be decommissioned. However, Elsworth said two sums have been thrown out by commissioners in recent months, one for $600,000 and another for $250,000, that Apex would pay the commission up front. Both sums are far less than the amount needed to decommission even three turbines.
At this point, Elsworth said he is not sure where commissioners stand, as they are tasked with protecting the interests of all residents. He does not think the commissioners will ban the wind energy company. He is hoping they will at least protect the interests of concerned landowners not willing to lease.
“Whatever rules or precedents are set now are going to be the precedents when it comes to the back door of Chanute. This is where it is going to be set,” Elsworth said.
Retired appraiser LeRoy Burk said Wednesday that the contracts offered by Apex are horrible in his opinion, allowing the lessees to have their way with the property.
“They kind of take over your whole farm. They have all rights. It’s a leasehold situation,” Burk said.
For the lease, Apex is paying Neosho County residents $5,600 per turbine, and then a small percentage (2 percent) monthly based on megawatts produced, minus a list of monthly expenses and fees.
Burk said Kingman County residents told him landowners were paid $10,500 per turbine, and those turbines are not located around homes.
Ray Hizey said while Apex quotes maximum production payouts in its ads, Kansas wind energy maps available online show most wind turbines in the state operate at around 30 percent capacity, decreasing payouts to landowners.
Burk and others discussed their perception that the Apex contracts are designed to be judgment-proof for the company against the costs of decommissioning the wind turbines, in addition to protecting them from nuisance claims brought by neighbors or even property owners themselves.
Elsworth and Burk said they encourage anyone who has not signed a contract to have an attorney review it, because the legal jargon and wording are framed to protect the company and not the landowner.
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