OSWEGO – Wind energy development in Labette County was a main topic for county commissioners on Monday.
Dave Oas of Parsons first visited with commissioners about Senate Bill 279, a 10-page bill that remains in the Senate Utilities Committee. Later in the meeting rural Edna residents asked commissioners questions about the development.
On the Senate bill, it’s unknown if it will make it out of committee this session as lawmakers have already reached turnaround, which is the deadline for bills to be heard and passed out of committees, debated on one chamber floor (House or Senate) and sent to the other chamber (Senate or House). Bills that spent time in certain committees, including Federal and State Affairs committees, are exempt from that deadline. SB279 was submitted by the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee.
SB279 would prohibit construction of a wind turbine facility until the developer enters into an agreement with a landowner that demonstrates that the developer has complied with the requirements in the bill. The bill establishes minimum setback distances for wind turbines and requires county commissioners to approve an application for construction of the facility. Generally, setbacks would be 7,920 feet from a residential property or public buildings, 15,840 feet from an airport or federal wildlife refuge or public park or hunting area and 5,280 feet from any property line of a non-participating property owner.
County Counselor Brian Johnson pointed out that the bill defines a residential property as one that has been used as a residence in the last three years.
“That’s not clear,” Johnson said. Is a residential property still a dwelling if it isn’t occupied more than three years? He also said the setbacks may need clarification, especially from non-participating properties.
“I can tell you that these didn’t just get plucked out of the air,” Oas said, adding that the language came from wording in laws in other states that enacted similar restrictions.
Commissioner Brian Kinzie asked Oas what he wanted commissioners to do with the Senate bill.
Oas said he would like commissioners to use it as a guideline in their decisions on the wind farm.
“I would like for this commission to be proactive in looking at these provisions, especially those that deal with not allowing developers to oppose non-disclosure agreements, when they can’t even talk to neighbors about various aspects of the contract,” Oas said.
Oas said he would also like commissioners to consider radar-activated lighting systems on turbines if turbines are allowed in the county. This provision is in the bill as well. The activated lights would turn on to warn approaching aircraft and then turn off. Oas said the flashing red lights on top of Neosho County’s turbines are visible in Edna.
“So they are incredibly, incredibly disruptive to our night viewing of the skies,” Oas said.
Kinzie said those light restrictions are something that could be added in Labette County, according to his conversation with an RWE representative. Kinzie added “if we go forward” with the development.
Commissioner Cole Proehl said the feasibility of the radar-activated lights depends on geography and that the Federal Aviation Administration makes the decision on if the systems are viable.
Commissioner Lonie Addis, who has voiced his opposition to wind development in the county, said he would hate to see an eagle killed in Labette County. Oas said wind developments kill eagles.
Kinzie said protecting wildlife, raptors and migratory birds is the purpose of the studies done in advance of construction.
Oas noted that the studies done on these issues are not binding on the wind developer unless made so by the county or in law.
Kinzie said the last thing he wanted was for an eagle to be killed. He said RWE is starting those studies. He said he hasn’t seen any reports from those studies.
Oas said that his purpose is not to say the wind turbines cannot be built. It’s to see they are built in areas suitable for them.
“I’m 100% behind that,” Kinzie said.
Oas said Neosho County and Labette County have similar numbers of persons living per square mile and that wind farms aren’t often built in heavily populated rural areas. Kinzie asked if Oas had data to support his statement; Oas said he did, but not with him.
Proehl told Oas that the setbacks discussed in the Senate bill would kill every wind project in the state. Oas said the restrictions would be easier to meet in western Kansas but it might restrict the project to one turbine in every square mile in Southeast Kansas. Proehl disagreed. He said if a family farm needed wind turbine lease money to help the business they wouldn’t be able to do that if a neighbor’s property line was too close in the next mile section.
Oas said he supports property rights, but he thinks a landowner’s rights stop when the issue adversely affects another landowner.
Kinzie said he would take all this in consideration, but he wanted to see how SB279 would play out in committee. He said commissioners wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t make sure they protected public interests and that’s part of the due diligence process. The wind farm project could be an economic boon to the county, which would share any payments in lieu of taxes with schools and the college and landowners.
Addis also asked Commissioners Proehl and Kinzie to speak with RWE together in the future so the meeting would be open to the public. Last week, Kinzie said he didn’t need Addis’ permission to talk to RWE and that Addis shouldn’t be involved in the negotiations with RWE because he does not support wind development. Addis said if they spoke to RWE he could stay away from the meeting or attend and not be a disruptive influence to the conversation. Addis wanted to make sure the information discussed in the meeting was shared with the public.
Kinzie said if he has a question he would like to be able to call RWE and see where the company stood on the matter without having a special public meeting. He said he has a responsibility to the people of Labette County and “I take that seriously.”
Two rural Edna couples also attended Monday’s meeting to ask about the wind energy development. Wayne and Carmaletta Bozman and Sheldon and Mary Lou Manley expressed their opposition to the development.
Wayne Bozman was the main speaker. He asked what the county would get out of the development.
Addis said there are no guarantees and that each county negotiates individually with wind energy developers. In some counties, the payments in lieu of property taxes went to the county alone. Renewable energy projects are exempt from property taxes in Kansas, but developers may work out an agreement with counties to make payments to replace the taxable value of the turbines.
Bozman said he lives west of Edna on 5000 Road, not far from where the turbines may be located.
“The people there just don’t want it,” Bozman said.
He said there will be a public meeting at 7 p.m. March 23 at Angola so area residents can air their views. He and his wife invited commissioners to attend and share what they know about the project.
Addis said he tries to listen to what residents have to say and has enjoyed hearing “grievances” from residents in the last 10 days.
Kinzie said many of the turbines would be in his commission district. He said RWE has already more than 22,000 acres leased. He said the wind farm would be from south of Big Hill Lake to about 8000 Road. Records in the Labette County Register of Deeds Office only show agreements totaling 15,000 acres as of late last week. Some agreements may not have been filed, however.
Kinzie repeated that he has not made a decision. He does not represent RWE. He said RWE told him there would be no construction until 2023, so decisions will be “way down the road.” He said he gives out information that he’s learned.
Bozman said he emailed the three commissioners and heard from Proehl and Addis but not Kinzie.
“Well, I watch what I put on social media because it can be interpreted differently. That’s why I like to talk about it. I’ve been available,” Kinzie said.
Bozman said at least Kinzie could have acknowledged receiving the email.
Carmaletta Bozman asked Proehl and Kinzie if they were not against it or for it why are they allowing the developers to come in. She wanted commissioners to make up their mind for or against and let the people know.
“We’ve had almost a feud in Edna over. … You all just need to make up your damn minds,” she said.
Proehl said he represents Parsons and a wind farm would benefit Parsons financially and would have little impact on its citizens’ lifestyle or views of the horizon.
“So if I’m just going off that it would have to be a yes. But I’m not going to do that. Because it is going to impact you. It’s going to impact the entire county. I feel that to do my job I have to do my due diligence of how can it benefit the majority of the people in Labette County for the next 20 years. If it doesn’t do that, you know then it has to be a no if it only benefits a few. So I just ask that you can give us some time so I can make that decision,” Proehl said.
Addis said he’s against wind energy development. Kinzie said he has not made up his mind and agreed with Proehl’s take. He said he has a responsibility to the entire county.
“But it will create jobs. It will create dollars for our economy. At what expense I have yet to find,” Kinzie said.
Wayne Bozman said what Edna residents would be looking at on the horizon would be an expense of the project.
“That’s what I’m saying. I’m agreeing with you Wayne,” Kinzie said. He said Sheldon Manley ran against him before and said he was for growth and industry to expand the tax base. Now Manley is against wind energy development.
“It’s like we want growth, but then we don’t want to put up with a refinery or we don’t want to put up with a windmill or we don’t want to put up with a sewer plant or a trash transfer station,” Kinzie said. “But yet we all use them and we all need them.”
Addis also noted that to keep out or restrict a wind development would require zoning of some sort. Addis and Kinzie said they were against zoning. Addis said except when it comes to wind turbines. Kinzie said that zoning could be done legislatively.
Johnson said if commissioners vote against wind farms they would have to create zoning. Many people do not realize that. The zoning could be restricted to wind farms or a wind development area. But the zoning could not be punitive and would have to follow state law and require the creation of a zoning board.
“You have to have all of those things. There are positives and negatives with having zoning. Just keep that in mind. If you are against wind energy, you are going to end up with zoning. You can try to limit it to wind energy,” Johnson said.
Kinzie said there is zoning at Big Hill, the 3-mile area around Parsons and at Great Plains Industrial Park. Zoning makes people nervous.
“So that’s something to keep in mind,” Kinzie said.
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