OSWEGO – A suggestion to impose a moratorium on wind development to allow more study time didn’t advance on Monday at the Labette County Commission meeting.
Commissioner Lonie Addis, who has requested extending a moratorium in the past, offered the topic up for discussion on Monday with fellow Commissioners Brian Kinzie and Cole Proehl. Addis said the county is looking at a long-term commitment and he thinks the moratorium would give more time for research. The moratorium that was in place ended this year.
Proehl and Kinzie did not support the idea. Proehl asked Addis what he would gain from the moratorium.
Addis said the commission could visit wind farms and speak with people living in the footprint of the Neosho Ridge Wind project in Neosho County. Addis also suggested having evening meetings to meet with the public so they would have a chance to ask commissioners questions.
“I think really they have the right to know why the commission is going to make the decision they are, or why we’re not going to make the decision,” Addis said.
Proehl thought commissioners should instead move ahead with discussions with the German utility RWE, which is looking at developing a wind farm in Labette County between 19000 and 8000 roads and between Meade and Douglas roads.
Brandon Hernandez, an RWE representative, has told commissioners the wind development would have between 50 to 75 turbines and generate 200 to 250 megawatts of power. The turbines could be 500 feet tall at the tip of the blade, according to Hernandez, although that height and the number of turbines are in question. RWE is collecting wind and weather information and will use this data to help determine turbine location, height and the number of turbines, Hernandez has said.
A 2020 filing with the Southwest Power Pool, which will receive electricity generated by the Labette County wind farm, if it’s developed, shows the turbine project has a proposed in-service date of Aug. 1, 2023, with a commercial operation date of Dec. 15, 2023. The project would generate 251 megawatts of power. If the turbines generate 2.2 megawatts each, this would mean RWE would install 114 turbines in the footprint of the wind farm. The power would travel to the grid via the Neosho-Delaware 356 kilovolt line, according to RWE’s filing on the power pool’s generator interconnection queue.
As of Monday, RWE had leased 129 tracts of land totaling 17,312 acres. These represent the leases filed in the Labette County Register of Deeds Office. The four most recent filings were from contracts signed in 2020.
Proehl said if the project benefits the county as a whole, the commission needs to look at it.
Addis said that Proehl’s district would not see wind farms because the Parsons Planning Commission excluded wind development for the 3-mile area around the city. But Addis said if RWE develops in the county that another developer could build outside RWE’s footprint. Neosho County commissioners imposed a moratorium after the Neosho Ridge project to curb future wind development.
Kinzie said a lot of positive things came from wind development in Kingman County, which is looking at erecting a fourth wind project. Addis said Kingman has 7,300 people, and the county is sparsely populated, so there have been few complaints. Commissioners in that county also benefited from the project because of their land leases and one owned a title company. Labette County has more people, 19,600.
Proehl thought a moratorium would just make the public and commissioners stew and worry.
“Let’s decide one way or the other,” Proehl said, adding that RWE won’t be building anything in six months.
Addis asked the four people attending the meeting if they wanted to enter the discussion. Wayne and Carmaletta Bozman, Cami Raschen and Dave Oas attended the meeting.
Oas asked the commission what information they would like to get from RWE.
“I have to hear their side before I can make even an educated guess,” Proehl said. He said, again, he’s not saying yes he wants wind turbines or no he does not want them. “But I have to look at it. If this is my job, I have to look at it for all the citizens of Labette County and their best interests.”
Raschen said her thought is that a moratorium would give the public comfort in knowing that nothing would be voted on Tuesday or anytime soon.
Commissioners last week asked County Counselor Brian Johnson to contact RWE to see what the company could offer the county.
Johnson said no contract has been issued to the county, no negotiations have taken place. There are a lot of questions that the public wants answered about aspects of the proposed development, from setbacks to zoning to road improvements to how the project would benefit schools.
“Everybody keeps demanding information from the commission. But the fact of the matter is I called RWE to ask, ‘OK, what’s your proposal?’ They didn’t have one,” he said. He understood asking the commission about its ideas on the development since they are spokesmen for the county. “But the fact of the matter is RWE doesn’t even know what their proposal is.”
Johnson said any documents that come from negotiations or votes would be discussed in the open and reported in the media.
“And I’m waiting on a return call so I can find out what’s going on so I can report to the commission and give you an idea of where they even want to start,” Johnson said.
Oas expanded on his question asking what commissioners wanted to require from RWE on safety, nuisance issues, shadow flicker. What is important to the commission in the process?
Proehl and Kinzie both said road use and road improvements were important. Kinzie added that the appraiser is looking into what value the turbines would have so the commission would have that knowledge in what payments to request in lieu of taxes because wind turbines are exempt from property taxes for the first 10 years of operation. Addis is against wind development in the county.
Proehl added that he would want to see how the development would benefit the county’s general fund and schools. On the agreement with RWE, Proehl said he would want “step-ups on a yearly basis, or at three or five or seven years in regards to inflation.” He would want checks and balances after the project is complete for road maintenance and for decommissioning. He would want a cash bond in place before the project starts for decommissioning the turbines. Setbacks are another issue.
Wayne Bozman said turbines will decrease land values, especially the smaller acreages between leased land in the footprint. Addis said wind developments just in recent years have begun to encroach on populated areas in Kansas so data on the impact on property values isn’t fully known.
Kinzie said commissioners want to be prepared when RWE wants to sit down at the table so the board can make the best decision for citizens.
Bozman said he wanted to know if commissioners would be under a gag order when negotiations started with RWE. He doesn’t think that’s right.
Johnson said negotiations are generally kept quiet until the time of a vote. He said the quiet period allows parties to get the bare bones of the terms straightened out before the arguing starts.
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