CHETOPA – A Labette County committee studying wind energy took its first formal action related to wind farm development on Monday morning, recommending restrictions on meteorological evaluation towers in the county.
Four members of the five-member committee – Sandy Krider, Lori Whitworth, Mel Hass and Kevin King; Rod Landrum was not able to attend – agreed on Monday to recommend the towers that measure wind characteristics at various locations would be no taller than 200 feet. The towers must be set back from structures and public roads the distance of 2 1/2 times the tower height and fences must enclose the guy wires at ground level. The towers also must follow Federal Aviation Administration requirements. The committee also discussed having alternating colors on the towers to improve visibility.
Labette County commissioners formed the committee in late 2019 to study wind energy and its impact on Labette County after a German utility company, RWE, expressed interest in developing a wind farm in Labette County. The Elk Creek-West Wind project so far encompasses a 99-square-mile area of southwest Labette County, generally west and south of Altamont. Mound Valley is near the center of this territory, which committee members heard would shrink as studies concluded using collected wind data.
After the committee made the recommendation, Charlie Morse, the county’s sanitation officer who is serving as facilitator for the committee, took the recommendation to county commissioners still meeting in Oswego. After hearing the recommendation, commissioners approved 3-0 to implement those restrictions on MET towers erected in the county.
Brandon Hernandez, a wind development manager for RWE Renewables in Austin, Texas, has said the MET towers will collect data for a year to 18 months before a decision is made on the size and scope of the wind farm, or if wind development is possible.
The wind study committee met for about two hours Monday morning at the Mae Lessley Community Center. Five members of the public attended. The meeting, as most other meetings so far, was broadcast live on Facebook Live via the Renewable Energy Awareness-Labette County page.
The committee’s next meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 8, at the Edna Senior Citizen Center. The Coffey County engineer will give a presentation showing the pros and cons of wind development.
The MET tower discussion happened at the end of the committee’s meeting Monday. Committee members are each studying various aspects of wind development, including setbacks of the turbines from structures, fire and security, impacts on roads, impacts on wildlife and decommissioning. The committee has other topics to explore. They will make recommendations to the county commission, which will then implement guidelines for wind energy development in the county.
Several people asked questions of the committee Monday. One man said his parents live in Neosho County and he’s been looking into buying a farm in Labette County near the proposed wind farm. He said he’s studied the wind energy and knows his parents’ experience with the development process.
“I don’t want to live near wind turbines, absolutely. I know too much about them,” the man said.
He said the turbines aren’t meant to be built around humans or households because of the noise, shadow flicker and other issues. Property values also drop, he said. He doesn’t want to invest in the property near the farm and have his property devalued.
The man said he understood, too, that there would be a lot of steps between now and when turbines are built, referring to the MET tower data collections and other matters.
Committee member King suggested that perhaps the man should not buy a farm inside the footprint.
Other questions related to decommissioning wind turbines. Whitworth has been studying this issue and she and committee members think that the wind developers should have funding or surety for decommissioning in place at the start of construction.
Whitworth said decommissioning is the process of taking down the turbines after their useful life. Certain things would trigger this, including a turbine that hasn’t generated electricity for eight to 12 months, or turbine failure. Dismantling the turbine would have a deadline, too, perhaps a year after the start of the period.
The cost of decommissioning a wind farm would need to be evaluated by an independent engineer, Whitworth said.
In Nemaha County, which has agreements related to its wind farm development posted online, the cost of dismantling its 119 turbines, two MET towers and two substations is $8 million. The agreement also is to remove concrete to 40 inches below the surface. Whitworth said she’s seen decommissioning agreements that go as deep as 48 inches.
“So these are the things that we are reviewing and will be making a recommendation as far as what a decommissioning agreement will look like,” Whitworth said.
“I’m still looking at different options, but obviously we want to do what will ensure the most funds for the county,” she said.
Another question was about weed control around turbines. Can crop dusters operate inside a wind farm?
King said he’s spoken to a crop duster in Bourbon County who said the planes can operate among the turbines.
“They don’t like to, but they will,” King said.
Some pilots have died crop dusting in wind farms, but more die from hitting power lines, he said.
Helicopter pilots for emergency medical services do not like to fly among turbines because of turbulence, King said. They prefer, based on his conversations with EagleMed in Kansas City, that patients in a wind farm be taken to the edge of the wind farm for helicopter pickup.
King also said crop dusting in the wind farm would be limited throughout the year by wind.
Dave Oas of Parsons said the committee should look at the impact of wind turbines on Doppler radar, which is used for storm forecasting by meteorologists. He attended an event in Bourbon County where a meteorologist discussed the fact that forecasters cannot accurately track storms through wind farms because Doppler is impacted by the turbines.
Morse also told committee members he heard from an environmental engineering firm from Tennessee asking questions about wind development in the county for another unnamed company.
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