Between 300 and 400 people turned out for Thursday’s public hearing on the application from NextEra Energy to build a 220-MW wind farm in southeast Reno County.
The public comment portion of the meeting, however, didn’t start until nearly three hours into the meeting at the Atrium Hotel and the crowd thinned considerably after a 45-minute dinner break.
Still, by 10 p.m., nearly 40 people had addressed the Reno County Planning Commission, with two out of three expressing opposition to the project, and at least a dozen people were queued in the front row waiting to speak.
At 11 p.m., the meeting was recessed and will reopen at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
NextEra took just over an hour to present its case, including a “third-party health consultant” who declared there were no legitimate studies that found documented adverse health effects from turbines meeting the NextEra plan.
The company even brought its own attorney, and the attorney brought his own stenographer.
After the company’s presentation, which emphasized the positive economic impact for the county and support for farmers with an assured secondary income, members of the planning commission asked a number of questions.
Several related to impacts on wildlife, aviation, weather radar, and television interference, with the board receiving assurances from NextEra on every question.
There were also commission questions about the economic benefit outlined in a pair of studies the company submitted as supplementary documents.
One of those questions revealed landowners who have signed up to grant NextEra leases on their property would decide which school districts will receive annual payments on their behalf, which NextEra offered to sweeten it package here.
The four district sharing in the money will include Pretty Prairie. St. Joe-Ost, Haven and Andale-Renwick.
After the NextEra presentation, several members of county staff presented reports, including the county appraiser, emergency management director and health department director.
The public comment portion began just after 6 p.m., with most of the early speakers supporting the application. After a dinner break, the hearing resumed and turned more negative.
Speakers expressed concerns about health, property values and the potential impact on wildlife.
Several speakers who said they live amid wind farms traveled to Hutchinson to tell their stories, including a couple from Missouri and several residents of Pratt County.
At least five speaker voice concern about the impact to several rural airports that were within three miles of several turbines, advising the board aviation experts recommend a minimum five to eight-mile buffer was needed for their uses.
In opening the meeting, Planning Commissioner Chair Lisa French advised that the commission would make its decision on the application at a later date, after another commission meeting.
Commissioner Bruce Buchanan inquired if there was a “drop dead date” for approval, and NextEra Project Manager Spencer Jenkins advised June.
The towers would only take a few months to construct, Jenkins advised, but there was a lot of up-front work that needed to be done, particularly on developing roads and negotiating agreements with the county on several issues.
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