Sedgwick County moved toward banning wind farms on Thursday.
Commercial wind developers won’t be able to get a permit in Sedgwick County if the County Commission and City Council approve a zoning code change recommended by the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission.
“No commercial wind generators would be allowed in Sedgwick County based upon the aviation industry in Sedgwick County and airports and because of potential for future development,” said Bob Dool, an at-large member of the planning commission.
Solar farms would still be able to get conditional use permits but would be limited to areas more than a mile from a runway or airport, unless the developers get Federal Aviation Administration approval.
Windmills owned by individuals would not be affected by the zoning code change.
The planning commission was tasked with crafting new zoning standards for renewable energy developments after the county commission placed a moratorium on wind and solar energy development in February.
A proposal would have prohibited wind farms within a 5-mile radius of an existing air strip or airport. That limited the areas where the farms could go to a few miles on the northwest, southwest and northeast fringes of Sedgwick County.
But a subcommittee scrapped that Thursday morning, moving instead to prohibit wind farms outright.
Kansas is one of the top wind energy producers in the United States. Most of that energy comes from rural areas, where energy companies lease land from farmers and ranchers to build and run wind farms on their lands.
No one has applied for wind or solar farm permits in Sedgwick County. But several landowners on the outskirts of Wichita have leased their properties for the purpose of renewable energy development, especially near Reno County, where one of the world’s largest utility companies, NextEra Energy, is positioning itself to open a wind farm close to Cheney Reservoir.
Citizens of rural Sedgwick and Reno counties showed up to oppose commercial wind energy in Sedgwick County. They expressed concerns the wind turbines could slow development of small towns like Andale and Mount Hope and become a general annoyance, with their flashing lights and blades flickering in the sun.
Brian Fair, of Andale, said he is “desperately opposed to industrial wind turbines in Sedgwick County.”
“They’re an eyesore. Nobody that has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on land and houses to get away from the buildings and the city wants these things in their back yard,” he said.
Dale Frazier, who lives near Valley Center, called the prohibition shortsighted.
“What we do today not only prohibits young technologies but any technologies that would come in the future,” he said.
Frazier also questioned the 5-mile radius around air strips in the initial proposal.
“Why not check with the FAA, like we’re doing with solar farms? The 5-mile push basically just pushes this out of Sedgwick County. I think that’s just a convenient number. That’s questionable,” he said.
Dale Miller, secretary of the planning commission, said that staff came up with the 5-mile setback from airports based on studies by the University of Chicago and University of Kansas. Those studies suggested commercial wind turbines are capable of “creating a vortex” as far as 5 miles away that might affect aircraft, he said.
Dool said so little land was allowed under the proposed recommendation that it made more sense to ban the farms outright. Planning commissioner Joe Johnson said he voted for the ban to protect Wichita’s aviation industry.
The vote to prohibit wind farms passed 6-2. The County Commission is scheduled to review the proposed change in mid-July.