Although some residents raised and voiced concerns about issues such as setback distances, noise and safety, the majority of feedback and testimony at a public hearing on Liberty Utilities-Empire District’s proposed wind-energy-generation plan on Wednesday night was supportive of the project.
The Missouri Public Service Commission conducted a hearing at Missouri Southern State University to give the general public the opportunity to ask questions about the project to representatives of Liberty-Empire, as well as state regulators. The PSC staff, which looks out for the general public interest, including stockholders, in regulatory proceedings, and the Office of Public Counsel, a separate agency that looks out only for ratepayers’ interests, both had representatives present at the hearing.
In addition to asking questions of the parties, the hearing gave members of the public the option of entering official testimony on the issue into the case to be reviewed by the five commissioners who will ultimately decide the matter.
All questions asked at the hearing were directed to Liberty-Empire and topics included the plan’s impact on the utility’s coal-fired plant in Asbury, the company’s ability to meet energy demand despite wind’s intermittent nature, the cost of production by coal, natural gas and wind, and the potential for safety risks in the event of turbine blade failures.
One attendee who said he lives in the area of the proposed wind farm in Neosho County, Kansas, said he had reviewed studies that indicated that a significant percentage of wind turbines were prone to dangerous discharges of blades or blade fragments, and said that the proposed setback distance of less than 2,000 feet was “grossly inadequate” due to the potential danger.
Another attendee, though, said he had reviewed the same studies and called them “fringe science,” saying an issue as minor as a crane bumping a turbine during construction had been included as an incident of danger.
“Empire won’t hide that we work in a very dangerous industry,” said Blake Mertens, the utility’s vice president of electric operations. “We have thousands, 200,000 connections to homes across (the area) that have electricity running to the homes. So we understand that it is our job to not only make sure that we not only provide safety for our employees but the customers around (too). And so we do everything we can to make sure these are as safe as possible, not only wind generation but our other power generation as well as those thousands of interconnections we have with our customers across our service territory.”
Of 10 attendees who offered public testimony on the matter, eight made clear they were in favor of the project while only two, including the man who raised concerns about safety, said they opposed the plan.
One, Steven Seeley, said he lives in the area where turbines are planned in Missouri and offered to have more installed on his land if the Neosho County, Kansas, residents were concerned about them.
“Stack ’em up,” he said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
The individuals that said they approve of the plan said they favored it for reasons including what they called its environmental benefits, energy cost savings and increased local tax revenues from property taxes the company will pay on the turbines.
“My brother and I farm within the Neosho Ridge area,” said Carl Brungardt in his testimony. “We look at it, we support the wind farms, the idea of it. And we see it as another revenue source off our property and that would kind of help leveling out our income when times are bad. Things have been better in farming. But another thing is we kind of look at the economic diversification of our county.”
Sites for the turbines will be split between two spots in Southwest Missouri and another in Southeast Kansas. The two sites in Missouri, which will generate 150 megawatts each, are being called King’s Point and North Fork Ridge, and turbines will exist in parts of Jasper, Dade, Barton and Lawrence counties. The utility has tens of thousands of acres under lease for the turbines, although only part of that land will be used.
The other half of the company’s wind production will take place in Neosho County, Kansas, north of Parsons. The plan calls for the company to invest $1.1 billion generating 600 megawatts of energy, which it says could lead to savings of roughly $170 million over 20 years.
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