More than two dozen Reno County residents asked the County Commission Tuesday to impose a 12-month moratorium on development of commercial wind farms in the county.
However, officials with NextEra Energy – which is in the midst of developing a 220-megawatt wind farm in the southeast quadrant of the county – warned that a moratorium would kill the project.
The company is willing to work with the county in developing a contract that would set specific restrictions on development, including greater setback distances, a couple of representatives of the company assured the commission.
But the project, which has been in the works almost three years, must be under construction by next year to meet contractual agreements with the company that will buy the power generated by the development or it will not proceed, NextEra spokesman Sam Massey advised.
Because Commissioner Bob Bush was absent from Tuesday’s meeting for medical reasons, the commission voted to table a decision on the issue until Dec. 4.
NextEra, meanwhile, will hold an “open house” on Nov. 27 to update residents on the projects and its footprint. The meeting will be at Haven High School. A time as not announced, but company officials said it would be advertised in advance of the meeting.
Since at least 75 people showed up for the meeting, however, Commission Chairman Ron Hirst advised the board would hear from those who attended, in case they can’t come back in three weeks.
The county set up a large screen video monitor and about 50 chairs in an open space in the courthouse that previously housed the Register of Deeds’ office. Less than an hour into the meeting, however, the monitor froze.
The commission delayed discussion for nearly an hour while county IT staff tried to get the system to work, even rewiring plugs. Eventually, the meeting resumed without the monitor, and the Commission Chamber doors propped open.
The Reno County Planning Commission will begin working on proposed zoning regulations on Thursday. County Planner Mark Vonachen and consultant Russ Ewy previously advised the commission it would probably take three months to draft new regulations because of legal public notification requirements.
Thus the commission was considering a six-month moratorium, though most residents were asking for at least 12.
Two people – Dorothy Barnett, executive director of Climate and Energy, and Rep. Steven Becker, who said wind development had been addressed many times during his six years in the legislature – spoke in opposition to a moratorium.
Every other speaker supported it, with several giving impassioned speeches about the potential impact on their homes, and children and the future development of Reno County.
Too close to home
One resident, Tyler Ryan, who lives on Sun City Road, told the commission he wanted to see what a 1,400-foot setback – the minimum distance away from homes on neighboring properties NextEra has agreed to for placing turbines – would look like.
He got up Sunday morning, Ryan said, and drove the Ninnescah Wind farm in neighboring Pratt County.
“I measured 1,400 feet, and I took a video,” he said, sharing the recording with the commissioners on his phone. “It was a pretty calm day… The sound and sight is nothing I want to see on my own property.”
Commissioner Hirst was disturbed by the video and suggested NextEra officials should watch it.
He admitted, Ryan said, that the shadow flickers would occur only during certain times of day, during certain times of the year.
“But you have to deal with it on a regular basis for months,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing that to a neighbor of mine. I understand people do it for financial gain, but I’d do what’s in the best interest for my family.”
“My land is in the zoned area of the county,” Ryan continued. “I was told I’d not be allowed to put a manufactured home there; the gist was to protect property values. This is a situation where there’s a 400-foot tall turbine within 1,400 feet of a property, making noise and blinking lights. Without a doubt, this would have a detrimental impact on the value of my property my wife and I have spent years developing in the county.”
After the public stopped coming to the podium in the commission chambers, Commissioner Dan Deming pressed NextEra officials on whether they would agree to a 2,500-foot setback for turbines, which is nearly a half mile, and that the company agreed to do in parts of Pratt County.
“Yes, we’re open to expanding it to that,” Spencer Jenkins of NextEra said, if it was part of a negotiated contract. And yes, he told Deming, it would be legally binding.
Several residents expressed concern about the impact on their property values, noting some studies claimed a wind farm increase values, while others showed a 25 to 40 percent loss in value within two miles of a turbine.
Gina Smith asked the commission whether her taxes would go down when her property values fell and whether the county considered the financial impact on its tax base of those probable property value losses, as well as losses from development in parts of the county stopping because of the turbines.
Sheila Ferguson said she moved from Kingman to Reno County two years ago, abandoning the family farm of 70-years, because of a high-voltage electric transmission line built to serve the wind farm there coming within 700 feet of her home. Residents were not informed and had no say, she said, where transmission lines were placed.
Following are comments by some of the speakers at Tuesday’s Commission meeting, or points that the speakers touched on.
“Are the setbacks from property lines, from roads and homes, based on scientific research or convenience? If you drive on the road and ice falls from the turbine, who will be in its path? If it catches fire, are the appropriate teams in place to stop the fire, to stop it from spreading across fields? Not just while you’re building them, but for 30 years? Help is a long way away in parts of the county” – Kristina Horsch
“Early on someone said the wind farm would be a win-win for Reno County. Recently you said there’d be some winners and some losers. Which is correct? I’d like to know. My family would like to know. The residents of Reno County would like to know. The magnitude of these decisions is enormous. The stakes are high for everyone involved. To make the right decision, you need to gather the information you need to vet it out. Take the time…. Understand the impact on those who do lose… Compromising the health of one child is not worth the money being offered. Don’t make a decision you may regret for the rest of your life.” – Buell Macarthur
“People don’t know about it. I didn’t get anything done with the survey because I had to explain it over and over. I showed them the map from the NextEra meeting, and people didn’t know.” – Mike Miller. He went door-to-door in the county to survey how people felt about the wind farm and a possible moratorium.
“What is the benefit to Reno County? What is the economic impact if the county approves this? The scientific information must be understood, not the propaganda put out by the company that is going to most benefit… I thought ‘what is all the fuss about?’ A year ago. I thought wind is clean; I thought it’s profitable. I didn’t want to live close to one. I didn’t want it in my backyard, but I didn’t want to mess up someone else’s ability to make a profit and do what they want with their land. But the more I learned, the more aghast I became… You don’t have to look far to see it’s not a rosy win-win. The devastation for profit effects everyone in the community… We’re one financial decision away from poverty. I never dreamed that the decision would not be my own… You have a constitutional responsibility to protect us. You need to understand this. Hire experts, assess their comments, do the right thing.” – Amy Brown
“I lived in Pratt before moving to Hutchinson… When NextEra came to Pratt, they put it all in the south part. Pratt was growing out there. Not one new house has been built since they put it out there. Now many people are trying to sell their homes. They don’t want to live by wind towers.” – Laura Lobmeyer
“I want my grandchildren to come to grandma’s house and be raised the way I was, with starry nights. I don’t want blinking lights.” – Shannon Hopkins. She used to live a mile from the Kingman County line and could see the red blinking lights of the Flat Ridge Wind Farm out her kitchen window.
“Kansas has almost 6,000 megawatts of wind across the state. Almost 40 wind farms have been built, with long-lasting economic and environmental benefits to communities… It’s hard to believe 11 years ago we started a Reno County Wind Energy Task Force to explore opportunities for wind power. In 2007, 200 people, Reno Countians filled a theater to explore how Reno County could benefit from wind and transition bringing it here… 90 percent of voters support expanding wind in the state.” – Dorothy Barnett, Climate and Energy Project
“The wind in Kansas has proved to be one of the greatest assets of the state. We need to take advantage of that. In listening to comments this morning, it sounds like this wind energy or wind farms is a brand new idea… The industry has been fully vetted… I think this body needs to do what is for the common good, and I think that is the support of rural economic development… The Siemens plant has become such a community partner to Reno County. It seems ironic now we’re talking about sending a message that we do not support that industry. I’m concerned about the message a moratorium would send.” – Rep. Steven Becker.
“I want our message to be clear: a moratorium, even a temporary one, would be fatal to this project and any future ones,” – Sam Massey, NextEra Energy
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