A wind energy advisory committee for Labette County briefly discussed economic impact, safety issues and required setback distances from turbines to property lines on Monday.
Only two members – Kevin King and Mel Hass – attended the online meeting, with Rod Landrum and Sandy Krider, the county’s public works supervisor, unable to participate on Monday. King and Hass decided to try to set up a 7 p.m. Thursday meeting, hoping that all four members would be available along with a representative from German utility company RWE. The company has expressed interest and has signed lease agreements for a wind farm in Labette County. The county commissioners formed a five-member committee in 2019 to study wind energy and its impact on the county. One member left the committee after moving out of county.
The committee only recently began meeting again after a layoff during the COVID-19 pandemic. Labette County commissioners on Nov. 10 extended a moratorium on wind farm construction for four months to allow the committee to complete its research and present findings to the commission within 90 days.
Charlie Morse, the county’s sanitation officer who is serving as the facilitator for the group, said on Monday the commissioners declined a request from the committee to hire an engineering consultant and an attorney to help with the research. The commission will hire any experts needed after the committee makes its recommendations. In the meantime, Morse said the commissioners instructed the panel to consult with Brian Johnson, Labette County counselor, for any questions related to law.
King and Hass had nothing to say about the commission declining the panel’s request for consultation. Hass wanted to know if an RWE representative had answered questions the group had, but Morse said the representative has not contacted him. Morse called the representative to invite him to join an online meeting but got no response. He will invite the representative to the Thursday meeting.
In the meantime, King has been researching the potential economic impact of a wind farm for the county but said he hadn’t gotten far as of Monday. In talking with Morse, King said he understands that RWE would bring in some of its own consumables, such as fuel and housing, but he thinks there still would be plenty of money spent in the area in the construction of the wind farm. He pointed to the number of concrete trucks traveling seemingly nonstop to the Neosho Ridge Wind project in Neosho County.
“I can’t help but think some of that will impact local resources,” King said.
Workers will eat in restaurants and buy personal items in the county, giving an “economic injection,” although that impact would be short term as the wind farm is under construction. Long-term effects would be minimal, King said, because wind farms don’t pay property taxes and require only a few employees, but he said he needs to gather more information.
Dave Oas, a Labette County resident who has called for caution in the development of wind farms in populated areas, asked King if he had checked into the availability of medical flights within the footprint of a wind farm. Oas said he has heard that Air Methods Medflight, which operates a helicopter based at Labette Health, won’t fly into wind farms because wind turbulence is too unpredictable, making a landing there risky.
“Medflight is a real asset to rural communities in getting into remote areas, and that is going to be affected. I think people ought to be made aware of that,” Oas said.
From his experience as a retired Kansas Highway Patrol trooper, Oas said the medical outcome for people is much better when medical helicopters are able to land near an accident site.
King said he would contact Air Methods to inquire about the issue.
While King is checking on the economic impact and safety concerns, Hass is focusing on setbacks, which would be the required distance from a turbine to a house or to property lines of neighbors not leasing land for the project.
Hass is pushing for a setback of 3,500 feet from a turbine to a nonparticipant’s property line. Hass had formerly lived in a wind farm’s footprint as a nonparticipant before moving because of the disturbance the turbines caused.
Hass asked if King had been to a wind farm, and King said he had and that the sound didn’t bother him. He said he had been around irrigation systems that were much louder. Hass said turbines get louder at night, but the sound can be heard 24 hours a day.
Hass wanted the committee to go to wind farms in Neosho and Allen counties, but King declined, saying ground has been leased and the wind farm was coming to Labette County regardless of the noise they bring.
Oas argued that it does matter, especially to the neighbors not leasing land. They should have a say in how close the turbines are located to their property, he said. Hass agreed, saying the proposed locations of turbines may need to be changed based on what the county commission decides on setbacks.
“The leases may be signed with the landowners, and that’s fine, but they may have to reposition the turbines,” Hass said.
Hass wants the 3,500-foot setback to protect people not leasing land from the sound of the turbines as well as shadow flicker and the flashing aviation lights. Good setbacks will keep the turbines away from the county’s more populated areas, he said.
The committee is set to meet at 2 p.m. every Monday on Zoom until early February.
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