The panel researching wind energy in Labette County will meet next week to finalize recommendations that will be shared with the Labette County Commission.
The panel’s recommendations for road repairs and agreements, safety, environmental concerns and setbacks will be shared with commissioners on Jan. 4. The panel’s last public meeting before that will be at 2 p.m. Monday via the Zoom online meeting platform.
This week, the four panel members, Sandy Krider, Rod Landrum, Mel Hass and Kevin King, met with Brandon Hernandez of RWE, the German utility that is exploring the possibility of building a wind farm in western Labette County. RWE is signing lease agreements with landowners. Meteorologic towers are collecting data from the wind and weather to determine the feasibility of the development. This data will also help determine turbine placement and the size of the project.
Hernandez is going to respond to questions given him by panel members and the public and those should be available Monday. Hernandez also offered to answer questions that he could during the meeting this week. He also agreed to speak to Hass after this week’s meeting to discuss his questions.
King said he didn’t think the submitted questions needed to be answered. Hass, who is researching setbacks, the distance between a turbine and a home or a property line, disagreed and said he wanted questions answered. King said he’s heard from Neosho County landowners who say noise is not an issue in turbines that started spinning in November. They don’t make more noise than do pump jacks, he said.
“I think we’re beating a dead horse. Let’s move on to something else,” King said.
Hass said he had a right to ask the questions and get answers.
Three board members, Krider, Landrum and King, said they were ready to present recommendations to commissioners. They wanted to make the recommendations Monday. Hass said he could work to meet that deadline. Later, after meeting with County Counselor Brian Johnson for 10 minutes in closed session, the board decided to make the recommendations for the commission on Jan. 4.
King asked Hernandez if RWE has all the acreage leased that is needed. Hernandez said no. RWE has a good chunk of land leased but the company will continue to sign leases up to construction. Leases will be needed for turbine placement, collection systems for the power and for other needs of the wind farm. So he said RWE is not at 100%.
“We’re always teetering at 95-plus percent. And that’s just so if we need it we’ll try to pursue it,” Hernandez said.
Another question was about where the power generated would end up. Hernandez said that’s up to the utility company buying it. He’s been on sites that keep 85% of the power locally and others with less.
King noted that he’s heard wind companies are getting greener. Some wind turbines are getting expanded lifespans and companies are looking at recycling wind turbine parts to make other products.
Hernandez said companies are finding ways to recycle what they can. But the main thing is to extend the life of the turbines by repowering them, refurbishing them, repairing them.
“That is something that we do try to do. We don’t want to remove turbines once they’re already in the ground. We’ll do what we can to extend their life,” Hernandez said.
Charlotte Ecoff, who signed onto the public meeting, asked how wind farms impact the ability of medical helicopters to land.
King said air ambulance pilots decide where and when to land. If the weather is conducive, a pilot can land right beside the tower if the tower is not operating, King said. A wind farm will not impact any air flight other than what weather would by itself. There may be situations where the pilot would not land as close to an emergency situation as they would like but helicopters can land in the footprint of a wind farm, King said.
He also said, based on Ecoff’s question, that Neosho County will benefit to the tune of $13 million in its general fund over 10 years, not counting the roads that were improved for the construction process. He said The Store in Galesburg also benefited. The convenience store was on the verge of closing when the wind farm development started. The increased traffic put the business on better financial footing, King said.
Another question to Hernandez was about lease agreements and other agreements and if those would transfer to the new company should RWE sell the project at some point
Hernandez said RWE would put up a bond and maintain it through the life of the project so money is set aside for decommissioning. He said leases and their provisions would transfer to the new owners.
Hass asked about how RWE would mitigate sound issues for non-participating landowners, those who don’t lease to the wind developer. Hernandez said the company tries to mitigate that as much as possible in the design and development phase through setbacks.
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