The sentiment “home is where the heart is” was evident Tuesday night at a community meeting south of Parsons related to a proposed wind energy development in the county.
Brad Owens, who opened the meeting at the Cedar Tree Barn, recalled a conversation he had with mechanic and retired Parsons firefighter Brett Heady. Heady told him Labette County’s biggest export is its children. They leave for college or jobs and never return.
“For those of us that can and choose to live here, obviously we don’t live here for the money. This is home and we love it.” He said he’s been in “cool” places across North America. “But, as far as I’m concerned, this is it.”
About 60 people attended the two-hour meeting, including Labette County Commissioners Lonie Addis and Cole Proehl. Commissioner Brian Kinzie said on Monday he would not attend.
County commissioners are researching a proposed wind farm development by German utility RWE between 19000 and 8000 roads and between Meade and Douglas roads. Commissioner Addis is against wind development, and Commissioners Kinzie and Proehl want to research the matter before deciding if they support it.
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 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. RWE had leased 129 tracts of land totaling 17,312 acres. These represent the leases filed in the Labette County Register of Deeds Office. There are likely other leases outstanding that have not been filed because the four most recent filings were signed by property owners in 2020.
Speakers on Tuesday included Mel Haas, LeRoy Burk, Mark Helt, Gilbert Burnett and Shirley Estrada.
Haas, who lives in rural Oswego, experienced wind energy development and the politics involved when he lived in Illinois. His property in DeKalb County was surrounded by turbines when a wind farm finally came. The noise and shadow flicker from the machines caused sleep deprivation. He said the turbines also interrupted cellphone and television reception.
Haas said he supports wind as a piece of the country’s energy portfolio as long as the turbines are properly sited where no people could be impacted.
He asked those attending the meeting to consider three words, honesty, integrity, transparency. This caused the greatest aggravation in dealing with the wind company in Illinois, he said.
Haas said his concern is that if the commission does not handle RWE’s development right with a special use permit or through zoning, the next wind company wanting to develop in the county will expect the same deal. So if setbacks aren’t adequate with RWE’s development, the next company will expect the same. Haas said he’s seen this in the past when studying wind developments in a number of states. Some counties ended up in court with wind companies.
“And I do not want that to happen here,” he said.
Haas sat on the county’s wind advisory board that studied wind energy for commissioners and issued reports on their topics. Haas’ topic was setbacks. He recommended setbacks from roads (1.5 times the turbine height), cities (3 miles), airports (5 miles), schools (1 mile), state parks, lakes, refuges (3 miles), forest preserve (1.5 miles) and residence and property lines (six times the turbine height from property lines).
He said the turbines create noise. He said he could prove this if commissioners or others accompany him to the Neosho Ridge or Prairie Queen wind farms in Neosho and Allen counties. The noise can be louder at night and weather conditions can further amplify the sound.
“It is nasty and it permeates your house. It does eliminate the use of your backyard,” Haas said.
Setbacks are the only way to protect homeowners.
Haas reviewed the development process for the wind farm in DeKalb County in 2004 or 2005. The company worked behind the scenes to get leases in place and the county board was in the dark. A special use permit seemed to favor the wind company to the detriment of landowners, so Haas and others organized to oppose the development. He said the opposition folks thought the county board was going to vote against the development when the wind company offered to install half the original number of turbines. After that the company seemed to disappear.
Three years later he heard grumblings that the company had returned. A number of public hearings took place, one of them a marathon session. Unions were promised jobs for heavy equipment operators during construction, and Haas said union members were aggressive toward those opposed to the development. Issues about wildlife, acoustics and other matters came out. Haas noted he found a mathematical error in the company’s brochure for the number of homes the wind farm would power (it was 27,000 instead of the 67,000 claimed in the publication). He asked the company spokesperson to do the math on the calculation included in the brochure. The company had to admit the error publicly.
In the end, the wind development was approved. The heavy equipment operators only got about 20 jobs hauling water to keep dust down on gravel roads during construction. The Teamsters Union picketed over this because they thought the trucks should have been driven by their members, Haas said.
He said the company did well on most roads. Noise was the main issue once the turbines were in place.
Haas didn’t sign a lease with the company, but he still had turbines around his property, the closest was 2,369 feet and the farthest was 4,283 feet. He and his wife used to keep windows open in their house, which had no air conditioning. The turbine noise made them close windows. He began to sleep in the basement to avoid the noise so he could function at work as a traveling salesman. Some days he would drift off the road because of sleep deprivation. Lunchtime was nap time.
“They need to site those properly for non-participating landowners,” Haas said.
He and his wife also used to entertain outside. But those gatherings died out because the guests didn’t want to listen to the turbines.
Haas said the wind company offered satellite TV to those who could not get TV reception in the footprint of the wind farm. He didn’t accept it. Cellphone reception issues were not addressed.
Schools in the area received a boost from the wind company, $1.2 million in the first year.
Haas said it took a year to sell his property so he could move to rural Oswego. He took $20,000 less than his asking price to a man who studied wind technology in college.
He said in his travels to study wind development he debated the author of the Berkeley study on property values that’s often quoted by wind companies. The study concluded that property values near wind developments are not impacted. Haas said there is good data in the study, but the author acknowledged that he didn’t include if the properties studied sold for a higher price, lower price or for the price listed. The study also did not include the days the properties remained on the market or statistics on properties inside the footprint.
One woman asked if the RWE development is already a done deal. If it’s not, how can it be stopped? Owens told her the commission will vote on the matter because the board has to approve a road use agreement to allow the construction.
LeRoy Burk spoke next. He lives in Neosho County and is a certified general appraiser. He formerly worked for Labette, Neosho and Montgomery counties. He farms and raises black angus cattle and has 15 wind turbines around his property. He did not sign a lease with Apex Clean Energy, which developed the Neosho Ridge Wind project that has 139 turbines.
He said landowners sign leasehold contracts with Apex. This means that Apex has control over the property. The owner cannot build a barn without developer approval. Leases stay with the land, even if the landowner sells, he said.
The development was to create jobs, but only five to seven permanent jobs will or have been created.
Burk said roads are not maintained as they should be, and construction workers traveled roads they weren’t supposed to be on during the build phase. He said he stopped a construction vehicle traveling his road, which was not approved for those vehicles, and told the driver to use the correct road. He said 60,000-pound trucks were crossing 15-ton bridges, too.
“It’s been horrible. It’s been a horrible experience for us. They’ve got fined several times because of me,” Burk said.
He said he and his wife made improvements on their farm to retire there. Now when they look out the front door they see turbines.
Eventually, the wind development will be sold to another company, and then the county residents will have another company to deal with.
Neosho County received $1.5 million in 2019 and received and will receive $1 million for the nine following years from Apex for approving the development. This is a payment in lieu of taxes because renewable energy projects are tax exempt in Kansas for 10 years. Despite knowing of the influx of cash, the Neosho County Commission increased property taxes for 2020 by five mills, Burk said.
Burk said one business that hires 100 people would offset the money coming in from Apex.
“They need to be working more toward that than this kind of deal,” he said.
Mark Helt of rural Parsons joined Burk to ask questions.
Helt said he purchased a home not far from the Cedar Tree Barn about a year ago for his family. He and his longtime friends had opportunities to live and work elsewhere, but some chose to return to their home county.
“We had a chance to go out in the corporate world, and we chose Southeast Kansas. It sure as hell ain’t because of cheap taxes, awesome roads,” Helt said, or updated infrastructure. It’s because of good people, good schools and land.
He applauded Addis and Proehl for attending the meeting. Their attendance shows they care, as they should because they were elected to act in the citizens’ best interest.
Helt said we will see how the issue works out. He encouraged attendees to speak to their neighbors and friends. His father didn’t know about the wind development so others may be like him, he said.
He said community groups are always looking for help from younger people. He noted there were a number of younger people in attendance Tuesday, and these were the people those groups want.
“I will tell you this, if those windmills come in … I’m getting the hell out of here,” Helt said.
He said he could move to Missouri or northwest Arkansas and pay less in taxes than in Kansas.
“And I look at this and I think maybe Southeast Kansas isn’t where I want to be. Because it’s not the cheapest place by a ton,” Helt said.
Burk invited attendees to call him to set up a time to look at his property and its position in the wind development.
“The beauty is gone,” Burk said.
“It’s not all about money. It’s where you live,” Burk said.
“We really need to look at more industry. Not the turbines.”
After Burk spoke, Brett Heady added to the earlier mention of his comment about the county’s biggest export.
“You export them one more time I’m going with them,” Heady said, adding that some citizens age 65 and older are following their kids out of town.
Gilbert Burnett of rural Edna spoke Tuesday as well. He spoke to county commissioners on Monday and addressed some of those same issues Tuesday. He said for people to make good decisions, they need to know the truth. He told attendees they are in charge. They voted commissioners into office and the commissioners represent them. Tell commissioners what you want. If you don’t, you have no right to complain about the actions the commission takes, Burnett said.
“So the job then is if we don’t want someone to put a wind turbine a quarter of a mile from your house we have to make a law in Kansas that says that,” Burnett said, noting the Legislature has a bill before it, Senate Bill 279, that deals with setbacks and restrictions on wind development.
He encouraged attendees to educate themselves on setbacks in different countries and what the World Health Organization recommends for setbacks. He encouraged attendees to review data and studies on impacts turbines have on health and the inner ear.
Burnett said the citizens should offer input to elected officials. Don’t let the wind company decide what setbacks it wants in a wind farm.
Shirley Estrada of Neosho County also spoke. She said Labette County took correct steps earlier by imposing a moratorium and extending it. The county created the wind study committee. She wants commissioners to explain what the next steps are. Commissioners swear an oath to protect the health, safety and welfare of citizens.
“The wind developers are under no such oath. Remember that,” she said.
She encouraged commissioners to be proactive and not reactive. Commissioners in Neosho County said once Apex signed leases the development could not be stopped. She said private contracts never bind a government body to action.
[rest of article available at source]
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