Reno County residents are reminded there will be a public hearing before the Reno County Planning Commission on Thursday on the application by NextEra Energy to develop a wind farm in the southeast quadrant of the county.
The meeting is set to start at 3 p.m. at the Atrium Hotel, 1400 N. Lorraine.
It will begin with a presentation by NextEra and county planning staff. It will then be opened to the public to receive comment.
While the meeting starts at 3 p.m., officials expect it to last well into the evening, so residents who can’t get away from work for the afternoon start may still attend and take comment if they get there before the meeting concludes.
Individuals are allowed up to 5 minutes to speak. Plans are to record the meeting, but no accommodations will be made for visual presentations by the public.
Everyone welcome to speak
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Reno County Commission Chairman Bob Bush stated at Tuesday’s county commission meeting. “Anyone who wants to attend the meeting is welcome. They will take written, as well as public comment. Anyone who’d like to may speak directly to Planning and Zoning, in addition to providing documentation. I’ll be at the meeting and listen carefully to all that’s presented.”
Commissioner Ron Sellers said he would not be attending the hearing due to other commitments, but said he’d review what is presented. Commissioner Ron Hirst was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
After the conclusion of the hearing, the Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the Reno County Commission on whether to grant a conditional use permit to NextEra Energy to construct the 80-plus turbine wind farm.
It’s unclear, however, when that recommendation will be handed down.
The misinformation Bush referred to is likely a result of a recent decision by the County Commission, that when it takes up the CUP application, will not accept additional public comment. Instead, that board will base its decision on the recommendation from the planning commission and any information presented to that planning board.
Residents can submit written comments at Thursday’s meeting or in advance to the County Planner Mark Vonachen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments must be received by Thursday to be considered.
More information is available on the county’s website at renogov.org. Click on an area on the home page listed as “Pretty Prairie Wind Farm.”
Links to documents on the page include NextEra’s permit application; studies on shadow flicker and turbine sounds commissioned by NextEra; a projected economic impact study performed by Fort Hays State; maps of the site, including one large map that can be moved and enlarged, as well as a series of individual smaller maps.
There are also reports by the Reno County Health Department, Emergency Management and the county appraiser.
As of last week, some 250 pages of submitted public comment compiled by Vonachen consisted mostly of the same three-paragraph form email submitted by 433 people living in 131 different Kansas towns.
Those submissions included 70 with Wichita addresses, 41 with Topeka addresses and more than 60 from the metro Kansas City area.
Just 10 of the emails had Reno County addresses, including nine from Hutchinson and one from Haven. Only one was from a man who said he lived within the wind farm boundaries.
In contrast, some 35 residents, all within or near the proposed wind farm boundaries, had submitted letters or emails in opposition to the permit as proposed.
One proponent for significant siting restrictions, Amy Brown, made nearly a dozen separate submissions of information, including links to various reports or videos.
The shadow flicker study, which looks at how often shadow flickers might be created on an individual home during the day by a spinning turbine, was done by a Boston-based consulting firm using computer modeling.
The study noted 475 homes are “possible shadow flicker receptors” by being within a mile of a turbine.
While there are no specific standards or restrictions on shadow flicker, “a general precedent has been established in the industry both abroad and in the United States that fewer than 30 hours per year of shadow flicker is acceptable to avoid nuisance concerns,” the study stated.
NextEra previously pledged to the county commission it would agree to a maximum shadow flicker of 30 hours per year – guaranteed for no more than 30 minutes per day – on any house within the project boundaries.
The modeling, however, found 10 sites that had more than 30 hours of shadow flicker, or 1.5 percent of homes. Of those 10, half could expect more than 40 hours a year of flicker, with the highest site projected at 69 hours.
About 10 percent of all the homes could expect 10 to 30 hours of flicker per year, the study found, while 339 or about 71 percent of the households would experience no flicker.
Last November, NextEra representative Mark Trumbauer promised sound from the turbines would generate no more than 50 decibels of sound “at a non-participating property line.”
“That’s no greater than a conversation between two people in a suburban area,” Trumbauer said. “It’s also equated to the hum of a refrigerator.”
The proposal did not include a minimum sound level for participating properties or any closer distances to the turbines.
The same company that did the flicker study, Tetra Tech, also did the sound study, again using computer modeling.
That study – based on assuming a uniform sound absorption rate throughout the project, even though hard surfaces reflect more noise – found no homes would experience daily average sound levels above 45 decibels (dB).
The study showed, however, that even if the turbines are equipped with special “Low Noise Trailing Edge” (LNTE) blades designed to minimize noise, at least 44 homes would experience levels of 40 to 45 dB, and that nearly 30 percent of the properties would experience a 35 to 40 dB average.
A report by the Reno County Health Department stated that the perceived nuisance of loud sounds varies considerably by individual, and that there’s some evidence industrial noises are more noticeable and disturbing than other sounds.
That report noted the World Health Organization indicates a problem with noise at 45 decibels (dB) and above, while European studies show increased annoyance at 35 to 40 dB.
Based on a review of various studies, local health officials reported: “evidence suggests that it is highly probable that a percentage of the existing population for which a wind energy project is developed will register annoyance, with a smaller percentage registering as very annoyed or chronically annoyed.”
It also noted a “statistically significant difference in attitude toward local wind energy” between turbines less than a half mile and those a half mile to a mile away.
While no direct adverse health effects were tied to higher sound levels, stress and sleep disturbance “were a scientifically confirmed outcome as a result of wind energy development.”
Local health officials also found no scientific consensus that inaudible low-frequency sound vibrations or ‘infrasound” “adversely impacts human health outcomes.”
A study submitted by Reno County Appraiser Brad Wright noted there are wind farms in 24 of the state’s 105 counties, with 2,655 functioning wind turbines.
In phoning each county, Wright found appraisers in none of those counties have adjusted home values due to the turbines.
Very few of those offices, however, commented directly on whether they’d seen any impact on home values based on sales, and for those that did, it was a limited experience.
There is no consensus from national or international studies on the impact to property values from wind farms.
Proponents arguing last year for a moratorium on wind development claimed that the majority of new construction in Reno County is in the southeast quadrant of the county and that developing the project there will kill new development.
An analysis by The News of all new homes built in the county over the past five years showed less than a fifth of the 238 homes constructed in the county in that period were in the southeast quadrant.
The county’s northeast quadrant, including Hutchinson and points northeast, accounted for more than 170, or about 70 percent, of the new homes for the period.
And, of the dozen homes built within the zoned area that will encompass the wind farm, the average value was about $135,000, compared to a countywide average just under $200,000.
However, census data forecasts for new housing growth in the county shows the southeast corner of the county, from Silver Lake Road south and K-14 east, is among the top four areas in the county with the highest development projections.
The data projects one to three new homes will be built in the area per year, compared to 3 to 5 in the Sandhills.
Notably, the census tracts just east of the Reno County line, in Sedgwick County, where NextEra Energy has acquired a dozen leases for wind turbines since 2015 – but where a moratorium is currently in place – projections are for six to 25 new homes a year.
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