While they touched on a few issues that surfaced with the development of two wind farms in Pratt County, three representatives from that county gave NextEra Energy high marks when answering questions from the Reno County Commission Tuesday.
Right out of the box, however, two of the three admitted to having family who benefited from the projects by owning land that was developed.
Pratt County Commissioner Glenna Borho said she abstained from votes by her county commission on the projects because her husband owns farmland with turbines, while County Road and Bridge Supervisor Doug Freund said his father owns land with “a couple of towers.”
Pratt County Zoning Administrator Tim Branscom said he’s four or five miles from the nearest turbine and has no family that owns land.
Asked to detail any problems encountered by the county or residents, the Pratt officials named a few, but indicated most, if not all, had been resolved.
– There’s been no new residential development in the area of the windfarms, dating back several years before construction. Two homes within the region have sold, however, and the values were higher than they were appraised for, Borho said.
– One man complained of interference with his TV reception and NextEra assisted him with a new antenna. The turbines do interfere with county radios and make GPS systems in tractors inoperable, but have not interfered with cell phone service.
– They didn’t cover shadow flicker in zoning regulations but made it part of the special use permit. For any landowner within a mile of a turbine, they can seek a landscaping agreement with NextEra, to block the light, that the utility pays for.
– Some farmers complained about not being able to do aerial spraying, so NextEra worked out an agreement to still turbines during certain times. In North Dakota, where her husband is from, Borho said, the crop dusters just fly around the turbines.
– Asked whether there’s been an exodus of residents, Borho noted people left when there was an oil bust, but none prompted by wind turbines.
“Once you see it on the vista and get used to it, you don’t see it anymore,“ she said. “They become invisible in that sense.”
– Asked what the company has screwed up or that the county has been unhappy with, Freund noted there was a subcontractor the county was unhappy with, but after complaining to NextEra, he was replaced. There were also complaints about workers using wrong roads – the roads for construction and maintenance crews are designated – but those issues also were resolved with calls to the company.
“Roads are the biggest issue,” Freund said, with residents having to deal with torn up roads during construction.
Before construction started, they hired an engineer to inspect all county roads – gravel or paved – and any bridges that would be used, including taking “before photos” and video recordings, Freund said. After the project was done, NextEra paid to repair the roads and then they were re-inspected, all to the county’s satisfaction.
“There’s always rain and a lot of headaches during construction,” he said. “The roads get torn up. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, they do. But I’m more concerned about the end result, and so far we’re very happy with the end result.”
– In Pratt County, they settled on a 2,500 setback for turbines from non-participating residences – the largest in the state – as a compromise between some residents wanting a mile and others happy with 1,000 feet. The turbine can also be moved up to 100 feet from its location on the approved map due to any soil composition issues.
– Setbacks from roads are a minimum of 500 feet or 1.1 times the height of the turbine. The minimum clearance for blades is 65 feet from the ground, amended from an original 85 feet, due to changes in turbine designs. There is also an eight-mile setback from the center of the airport.
– The maximum sound level may not exceed 60 decibels five feet above the ground and company is required to provide professional sound testing if requested by the county.
– The zoning regulations require the company have a power purchase agreement with someone to buy the electricity produced at the time an application is made for a zoning permit. The company is also required to post a sufficient “decommissioning bond” to remove a tower if it sits idle for a year. The company cannot sell the project unless approved by the county, and with the decommissioning bonds transferred.
– Payments to the county, up front as “in lieu of permit fees,” and annually for 30 years will equal about $23.1 million for the Ninnescah Wind farm and $26.2 million for the Pratt Wind project, allowing the county to lower its annual property tax mill levy and distribute some of the money to third class cities within the county for the demolition of derelict housing, paving and handicap-accessible playground.
“That’s strictly to Pratt County, excluding payments to landowners or any other production fees,” Borho said.
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