HAVEN – Most of the 125 people in attendance grumbled when a NextEra Energy representative said people have wanted a wind farm to Reno County for a decade.
“Not here,” one man said.
The Florida-based company held a Q&A on Tuesday in the Haven High School cafeteria. No one in attendance spoke in favor of the proposed 80-plus turbine wind farm.
However, it doesn’t seem to matter.
NextEra Energy Director of Communications Bryan Garner said they have acquired leasing rights to a majority of the land they need, but still are in talks with a few landowners in the proposed wind farm area.
“The ball is really in the county’s court,” Garner said.
Window of opportunity
Reno County Commissioners will consider a moratorium on Dec. 4. Representatives of the clean energy company said that would be “fatal” to a project they hope to complete by the end of 2019.
NextEra has a small window of opportunity to build if they want to use federal tax credits in the sale of its energy. The U.S. Department of Energy reports the business energy tax credits will go from 12 percent in 2019 to zero in 2020.
NextEra is the wholesaler of the energy and has already entered a 15-year contract with Iron Mountain for the prospect of future energy in Reno County. Iron Mountain gets the tax credits, which makes buying the power a lucrative business.
The tax credits also make wind energy the “cheapest form of energy” in Kansas, according to Sam Massey, director of renewable development at NextEra.
NextEra will be on the hook for the energy it promised Iron Mountain if the moratorium passes. So, the company has stepped up its incentives.
On Tuesday, the company announced it would give at least $50,000 a year to local schools for 30 years – a total of at least $1.5 million. For every person that enters a lease agreement, the company will give $500 to their rural school of choice around the proposed wind farm.
A company representative stated he approached the Interlocal Learning Center in Mount Hope, St. Joseph Catholic School and Pretty Prairie and Haven school districts about being part of the monetary gift.
A man spoke up in the crowd and said that he is on the Haven School Board and hasn’t approved anything. The NextEra representative said the money is a charitable gift that the district can decide if it wants to accept or not.
Because of resistance around St. Joseph community, NextEra has agreed to a 1.82-mile setback from the school.
NextEra has made other concessions as well: no more than 30 hours a year or 30 minutes a day of shadow flicker on a home and increased setbacks from wind turbines to homes of 2,000 feet.
Although, Reno County Commissioners have requested a 2,500-foot setback.
The three commissioners and Ron Sellers, commissioner-elect, all attended the meeting. NextEra provided a catered meal from Hog Wild Pit BBQ. Before taking written and oral questions, NextEra showed a video about the community of Edgeley, North Dakota.
In the video, community members in the North Dakota town with a population under 600 all spoke in favor of their NextEra wind farm. The community even held a parade in honor of the wind farm.
“That community invited you. Our community didn’t invite you,” Project Manager Spencer Jenkins read off a card. “What are the similarities?”
The crowd chuckled.
Jenkins said NextEra first looked into Reno County in 2015, years after the 2007 Reno County Wind Task Force assembled to explore wind energy in the county. That’s when Jenkins noted that people in the county have considered the alternative energy for a decade.
“Kansas has world-class wind, that’s why we here,” he said.
The public first learned about NextEra’s interest in an open house meeting last December.
One man asked if the NextEra would guarantee that property values would not drop because of the wind farm. If property values fell, he asked, would NextEra pay to buy the person’s home.
“Is anyone going to give you a guaranteed increase in property value?” Massey replied. “The answer is no.”
Massey said that studies have shown that wind farms do not have a negative impact on property values. NextEra representatives stated they would show the studies to anyone interested.
Another person asked how NextEra can say that the wind farms have no negative health effects when the Brown County Board of Health in Wisconsin stated otherwise.
An article in the Green Bay Press Gazette stated: “Previously, the Board of Health declared the wind farm a human-health hazard. But the county’s former health director concluded in 2015 that insufficient evidence existed to link the wind farm to people’s health issues.”
Massey also said that federal studies and ones done by third parties have found no adverse health effects from wind farms. As support, he said that’s why there are thousands of wind farms across the world.
Everyone would benefit from the cheap energy, Massey said. He compared the proposed wind farm energy that would go onto the electric grid to a drop of water falling into the reservoir.
That specific drop could not be singled out, but it does benefit the entire water supply, he said.
“The analogy is bad,” Kevin Horsch said, adding the energy goes elsewhere. “It does not benefit us.”
Massey furthered explained the flow of an electron onto the grid.
“Don’t talk down on us on how electrons flow,” Andy Helten said.
Helten is involved with a group called Stop the Pretty Prairie Wind Farm. Karen Albright is as well. Albright said she lives out in the country for a reason.
“We moved out here to get away from skylines, big cities, big tall buildings, and then you want to put this in our sights,” Albright shouted out at the end of the two-hour meeting. “To call it Pretty Prairie Wind Farm, I’m totally against it. I live in Pretty Prairie. It’s a pretty prairie. You put windmills out there you are gonna lose all of your scenery.”
Pretty Prairie will not get any wind farms.
The proposed area goes from Arlington Road to the north, slants down around Haven and out east toward the Reno County line. It cuts south past Pretty Prairie Road and then off on an angle to the west as far as Yoder Road.
Someone asked what the effect would be of shadow flicker around Haven.
“Fairly minimal,” said Project Manager Mark Trumbauer.
NextEra proposes 12 miles of lines that will run to the west toward Colwich. NextEra representatives say they don’t know what properties will have lines or wind turbines, yet.
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