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Commission rejects another call for wind moratorium

A couple of southeast Reno County residents renewed calls to county commissioners on Tuesday for a moratorium on commercial wind development.

The residents, who live near the proposed NextEra Energy wind farm, asked officials to hold off on any new wind farms until they draft regulations to control such developments.

Two of the three commissioners, however, voiced opposition to a moratorium, and the commission chairman denied a need to give the Reno County Planning Commission further direction on the issue.

Kristy Horsch urged commissioners to work with concerned residents to produce adequate zoning. As it is, she said, residents are “unprotected.”

“Our homes, properties and families are vulnerable,” Horsch said. “So much has happened in the past nine months in Reno County related to renewable energy – it is hard to imagine that nothing has changed towards helping the people get the needed and desired protections for our county. What has changed is our perspective. Our community is divided. Our county is tired. Our people have sacrificed so much. We have all learned valuable lessons.”

A vote last Thursday on the NextEra permit failed because it wasn’t unanimous. Commissioner Ron Hirst opposed.

Hirst agreed with Horsch and Pretty Prairie-area resident Jean Conkling, who also requested a moratorium to protect residents in un-zoned portions of the county while new regulations are drafted.

“I remember the old commission last year had agreed to move forward with giving planning and zoning some direction to do a zoning overlay for the whole county,” Hirst said. “I thought we agreed to wait until the original (conditional use permit) was completed. That’s been done. It’s time to bring this up.”

Commission Chairman Bob Bush objected to the moratorium, saying it would amount to “micromanagement” of the county’s planning and zoning board.

“We don’t need a moratorium,” Bush said. “We don’t need a statement from the county that we’re not open for business. We need to provide planning and zoning the opportunity and authority to set their own agenda, to set their own timeline, and to act on those.”

Bush said he would ask the planning board to consider taking some time to come up with different rules, policies and procedures.

Commissioner Ron Sellers said the failed vote to grant NextEra a permit to build its proposed Pretty Prairie Wind Energy Center was one of the most detrimental factors in Reno County economic development made in the last 70 years.

“From my standpoint, the proposed company did make concessions along the way, trying to make it work for the county,” Sellers said. “I don’t think there’s any question for the county as a whole we’re going to lose economically by taking the vote we did. I’m not interested in any moratorium at this time.”

The commission adopted a resolution detailing its findings last week that allowed the board to accept a protest petition against the NextEra permit, which forced a unanimous vote of the commission to approve the permit.

County Counselor Joe O’Sullivan, who requested the drafting of the resolution, said he hoped to present a similar resolution next week documenting the commission vote.

NextEra has 30 days to appeal the issue to the district court. O’Sullivan indicated he believed the clock would start once the second resolution is adopted.

“The county and the citizens sacrificed tremendously for a subpar conditional use permit,” Horsch said. “None of us want to be in that position again. I propose that this time, we work together. This time we make it count with adequate zoning that will ensure the next conditional use permit meets not only your standards but the people’s standards, as well.”