OSWEGO – Labette County commissioners will take comments and questions from county residents later this month about the possible development of a wind farm in the western half of the county.
RWE, a German utility company, is exploring the development of a wind farm that would have 50 to 75 turbines generating between 200 and 250 megawatts of power. The turbines could be 500 feet tall at the tip of the blade. RWE is collecting wind and weather information now and this data will help determine turbine location, height and the number of turbines needed.
Commissioners talked about 40 minutes Monday in a work session about setting guidelines for the public meeting. They agreed to have the meeting in the evening, possibly in Altamont, perhaps at Harrison Auditorium at Labette County High School, if it’s available. They will allow Labette County residents to share their opinions or ask questions about the possible wind farm. Speakers will be limited to three minutes, but Commission Chairman Lonie Addis said he will limit that time if the information shared is irrelevant or redundant.
Next week, commissioners hope to have details of the meeting finalized. Commissioner Cole Proehl suggested the meeting run from 7 to 8:30 p.m., whichever night is available.
Setting those parameters for the public meeting took most of the 40 minutes to solidify. Discussion drifted during that time.
Commissioners have not made any big decisions about the wind farm development.
A committee formed by the commission has submitted five pages of reports with recommendations for road use, setbacks, safety and environmental concerns.
Several committee members weighed in on setbacks. Suggestions ranged from 1.5 times the full height of the turbine to six times the height of the turbine from property lines. Setbacks from roads could be 1.5 times the turbine height. Setbacks from airports should be 5 miles, from schools 1 mile, from state parks and refuges from 3 to 6.2 miles, from a forest preserve 1.5 miles. Public Works Director Sandy Krider shared two pages of details on protecting county roads from damage during construction of the wind farm.
Commissioners enacted a moratorium on wind farm construction that expired in November. Commissioners then extended it for four months, and that moratorium ends March 9. Addis thought the commission should extend that again. He is concerned the county would have no say if the moratorium expired before construction started.
Commissioner Brian Kinzie said if RWE moves forward with the project that construction would not start until the second quarter of 2023. The company needs to get permits and studies completed before construction can happen.
County Counselor Brian Johnson if the moratorium expired and the county had nothing in place before construction began, the county would not be able to enforce setbacks. Proehl said RWE still has many studies to complete before the project moves forward if commissioners support it.
“I’m looking at this as a negotiation on if this is even going to work,” Proehl said of this stage of the discussion and investigation process by the county. If the project benefits the majority of the county he thinks the commission should move forward. But it’s too early to know that.
Johnson said that Kinzie and Proehl are correct and the county has time to create the limited zoning required to establish setbacks and other restrictions, if any, on wind farm construction. Setbacks could not be established without having limited zoning in the footprint of the wind farm.
Addis asked if the commission should engage an attorney familiar with decommissioning agreements and perhaps an engineer familiar with road use agreements.
Proehl said he has no problem bringing those experts in when the time is right. He said the county shouldn’t hire an attorney to listen to the commission argue about details.
“We don’t even know where we’re at yet,” Proehl said.
Kinzie said he wants to make sure the county and property owners are protected on the decommissioning issue if the wind farm is sold in the future. Decommissioning is an agreement that the wind farm developer makes with landowners on removing the wind turbine at the end of its useful life and having money available, through a bond, to complete that task.
Kinzie said he’s heard that a wind farm that covers multiple counties may be developing east of Parsons but still outside the 3-mile zoning area in which wind turbines are not allowed. He said while no turbines could be built there, based on action by the planning commission and city commission, a road use agreement may include roads in that area.
Kinzie also reminded commissioners of the potential for millions of dollars being generated for the county, schools and Labette Community College from agreements with wind developers whose farms are exempt for now from property taxes as a renewable energy generator. Developers sometimes make payments in lieu of taxes to public entities.
“Do you know what that would do in property tax relief like our sales tax?” Kinzie asked. “Let’s keep this all in mind.”
He said the wind farm won’t just impact people in the southwest part of the county but all people in the county.
“I want everybody to know this is going to impact the whole county,” Kinzie said.
He said the commission needs to listen to the public at the upcoming meeting.
“We need to hear their concerns and then we need to apply them in what our decisions are on the setbacks, the road improvements. … We’re not going to please everybody with whatever decisions we make either way,” Kinzie said.
Proehl tried to steer the conversation back to the original purpose of the work session, establishing rules for the public meeting.
Addis said he wanted to limit comments to only Labette County residents. Proehl and Kinzie said the commission will decide at the meeting if it will allow someone who owns land in Labette County but lives outside of the county to speak. Addis didn’t think they should be given the floor since they don’t live in the county.
Addis wanted to limit time for speakers to three minutes and could shorten that time or expand it depending on the discussion. He wants to avoid repetition and information that is not relevant.
Charlie Morse, Emergency Management director, will attend the meeting, help with logistics and broadcast it through the Zoom online platform.
Johnson suggested the commission consider having security at the meeting.
When a date is set the commission will release that to the public through its website and perhaps through a legal publication.
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