MOUND VALLEY – A relatively large crowd attended Wednesday night’s meeting of the Labette County committee studying wind energy.
The five committee members – Sandy Krider, Kevin King, Rod Landrum, Mel Hass and Lori Whitworth – gave briefings on their areas of study so far before taking questions from the 39 people in the chairs at the Mound Valley Community Center. Wednesday’s was the second committee meeting broadcast live on the Renewable Energy Awareness—Labette County Facebook page.
The Labette County Commission formed the committee to look into wind farm development and possible regulations after a German utility expressed interest in developing a wind farm in Labette County.
RWE is exploring development of a wind farm in the western half of the county. The development, if it moves forward, would be a couple of years in the future, but commissioners want to be prepared and know the positives and pitfalls before then. Commissioners implemented a moratorium on wind farm construction until November 2020 while the committee studies the issue and makes recommendations to commissioners.
RWE Renewables Development has since filed eight memoranda of lease and easement agreements with the Labette County Register of Deeds Office in Oswego, four in January and four so far in February. The agreements allow the leased land to be used for wind energy purposes for the Elm Creek-West Wind Farm and to determine the feasibility of wind energy conversion on the properties. The leases are for a developmental term, which will continue until energy is generated or June 30, 2025. The leases also have an operational term, which runs from the generation date or the expiration of the developmental term to the end of the 30th calendar year after that date.
As of Monday, the agreements cover 10,016.5 acres split among 72 tracts. The land generally is in the western half of Labette County.
The committee’s briefings on their areas of study were repetitive to some degree as audiences are different in each community the committee meets and may not be familiar with the issues.
King is looking into fire danger and security issues related to the turbines. He’s visited with sheriffs in Neosho and Allen counties about security as off duty officers generally are hired to watch over equipment and supplies while the turbines are being assembled. He’s trying to get hard answers on questions of liability if fires do occur.
Landrum is studying the impact on wildlife and showed a binder that’s filling with research. He said he and other committee members are having difficulty finding unbiased information on wind development and facts and figures to support ideas or statements on issues. He said the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have good information online, as does the American Wind Wildlife Institute. He’s still trying to find facts about wind energy’s impact on deer.
He said whatever happens in Labette County with wind development, “I hate to see a community divided like the one north of us.” He and others expressed appreciation to county commissioners to organize a study group before development happened.
Krider, who is Labette County Public Works director, is looking at the impact on the county’s infrastructure. The county has already experienced road damage related to wind farm construction in Neosho County. New routes were developed for those trucks and a route is being developed for trucks that will leave Great Plains Industrial Park with wind farm parts headed to Missouri and eventually Neosho County. TP&L started stocking its lay down yard at Great Plains this week.
Krider said she’s also visited with officials in Allen, Pratt, Kiowa and Coffey counties where wind developments have happened and collected road agreements. A few more road agreements will be coming from other counties, she said.
She spoke with Wayne Blackbourn, the Coffey County engineer, about wind developments in his area. He suggested that Labette County get an engineering firm hired quickly to assess roads. These firms, once they know the size of the wind farm to be developed, will know what to do to “beef up” the roads to support the loads coming and going.
“He said to get everything in writing. If you don’t have it in writing, it didn’t happen,” Krider said of her conversation with Blackbourn.
The engineer also offered to visit with the committee to share his experiences, pro and con.
Krider said once she receives all the road agreements she will share the information with the committee.
Whitworth is studying decommissioning, or what happens to the giant structures when they no longer produce electricity.
She, too, is having difficulty in finding reliable information supported by independent research.
Decommissioning involves dismantling turbines, utility lines and returning the land to a state that existed before development. This involves removing some or all of the concrete substructure that supports the tall turbines, removing roads and reseeding the ground.
Some states have laws governing decommissioning. Kansas has no law on decommissioning, Whitworth said.
“That’s one reason why I think the county would need to be involved,” she said.
Counties need to write agreements that say when decommissioning starts, which would be when the turbine stops working or when it stops producing electricity or when the entire wind farm stops producing energy. The agreement also has to set deadlines for starting and completing decommissioning. Companies need to set aside money to pay for decommissioning. Her research shows that decommissioning could be triggered if a turbine does not produce energy for eight up to 18 months.
Whitworth said her research has shown that decommissioning a 132 turbine 300.6 megawatt wind farm would cost from $10 to $15 million. The salvage value of some components mitigates these costs.
The county would not want individual landowners to negotiate these decommissioning agreements because they may not be uniform.
Whitworth said her recommendation is that a short time period of a turbine not producing energy would trigger decommissioning, such as eight to 12 months. Dismantling each structure could take a year.
Hass lived in a wind farm in DeKalb County, Illinois, before he moved to Labette County. He’s studying setbacks, or the distance between the turbines and property lines, foundations of homes or roads and other areas.
Hass has detailed knowledge on wind farms from his study of them while living in Illinois. The wind farm around his Illinois farm was built in 2009. His property was within 2,400 feet of turbines and he had a 360-degree view of the energy producers. He’s been to wind farms in Wisconsin, South Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Indiana, he said Wednesday.
Setbacks can help those who lease land to wind developers and their neighbors who do not lease, he said.
Standing under a wind turbine, you would not notice any sound. That’s because the sound carries away from the turbine. Depending on conditions, such as wind, humidity and moisture, this sound from spinning turbines can be “egregious,” he said, even inside the home. He heard the turbines mostly at night in Illinois because of the conversion factor. This is created by the cooling earth and rising heat combining with wind currents to allow the turbine blades to hit their sweet spot, he said.
“It does permeate your house,” he said.
Turbines also impacted TV and cell phone reception on his farm.
He dismissed shadow flicker from the turbines until he retired and wanted to sleep in. The shadow and light, which happens when the sun hits the turbines just right, woke him up.
Hass said there may be advancements in wind turbine construction since 2009 so he’s trying to find what new information is available.
He does think that zoning is one way to address some of these issues with wind developers.
One man attending the meeting asked where the electricity generated in Labette County would go, if the development comes. He was told that generally the electricity is sold to support urban populations. Electricity generated in the Allen County wind farm is sold to the Kansas City area.
Another asked about taxes because these large structures surely could help reduce property tax loads in Labette County. The Neosho Ridge Wind project in Neosho County makes a payment to the county in lieu of taxes.
Whitworth said Kansas offers wind developers a 10-year tax abatement. After that 10 years, companies have fought about being taxed.
One man asked about RWE and if anyone looked into its financial history. Committee members had not. Dave Oas, who was attending the meeting and has been studying wind energy, said RWE is one of the largest wind developers in Europe. He said green energy programs are shrinking in Europe and growing in the U.S.
A woman asked why Europe was moving from wind energy. Oas said he didn’t know and all he had was anecdotal information.
He said in a way the community must act like a jury. Each side will present the community with factual evidence on both sides of the argument.
“So we as a community have to listen to it and apply our own good common sense as a community to try to figure out,” Oas said.
King said RWE has 23 wind farms in the U.S., according to its website.
A man asked if local people would be hired to help build the turbines. Whitworth said that’s on the list to study. Hass said his experience is that most of these crews are experienced and travel from site to site. Local contractors are used to supply gravel and concrete, as is happening in Neosho County.
The next committee meeting is set for 9:15 a.m. Monday in the courthouse in Oswego. County commissioners are to meet with a representative of the German utility company wanting to develop a wind farm in the county. The committee will meet with the representative after commissioners. The committee’s next meeting after that will be at 9 a.m. March 9, in Chetopa. A location has not been finalized.
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