OSWEGO – In 45 days, RWE Renewables should have information to share on the proposed Labette County wind development, County Counselor Brian Johnson told county commissioners Monday.
Johnson made the announcement after a 30-minute closed session with commissioners for an attorney-client privileged discussion. By then, the commission meeting had already featured impassioned pleas against and for the development.
Johnson told commissioners that about 1:30 p.m. Friday he spoke with RWE and its legal counsel.
“No negotiations were made. We had basically a preliminary discussion that they will be issuing a report of some proposed actions and costs and figures within about 45 days. So we’re going to wait and see what that is. And that’s what was discussed,” Johnson said.
Commissioners also discussed having an evening meeting in or near the proposed footprint of the wind development (between 8000 and 19000 roads and Douglas and Meade roads). But they wanted to wait until the county receives the RWE proposal. The meeting will take place around June 28. Commissioner Brian Kinzie wants RWE representative Brandon Hernandez to attend the meeting so citizens can hear from him directly.
RWE 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.
Lindsey Wilson of rural Altamont was on the agenda to speak about setbacks, which is the distance between turbines and property lines or homes. She is an English teacher in USD 506. She and her husband and their children live on the southern border of the proposed footprint. A meteorological evaluation tower installed for RWE collects weather and other data about one quarter of a mile from their home, she said.
Wilson said she was concerned about the recent resolution commissioners passed on a 2-1 vote that includes a recommendation of setbacks of 1,600 feet.
She shared information from newspaper stories, a company website and other sources about wind projects.
Wilson quoted Jessica Schmidt from a Hutchinson News story in February. Schmidt is a Reno County real estate agent, former Haven economic development director and school board member. Perception drives home-buying decisions, Schmidt told the Reno County Commission. Perceptions of a property change from a home with an unobstructed view of the prairie and one with a wind development next to it.
Schmidt told Reno commissioners about a study by Forensic Appraisal Group of Neenah, Wisconsin. The company studied the impact of a wind turbine 2,600 feet from smaller tracts of land and determined it would lead to an average 60% loss in value, the Hutchinson News reported. A separate analysis of sales data saw 12% to 40% losses depending on how close turbines were. Schmidt also polled her clients who were actively seeking a home to purchase in rural Reno County and 71% said they would not purchase a home near a wind turbine even if the home was exactly what they wanted, the News reported.
Wilson also reported company information from Apex Clean Energy, which is building the Jayhawk Wind project in part of Crawford County. Apex told Crawford County commissioners that the development would create 300 temporary construction jobs and 30 long-term jobs. Recently, Apex modified that number to 115 temporary construction jobs and seven long-term jobs.
“So while these statistics don’t tie in here initially, I promise they will. I just wanted you to understand where I’m pulling this data from and that it is fairly close to home,” Wilson told Labette County commissioners.
Reno County planners previously proposed setbacks of a minimum of 2,000 feet, or four times the turbine height, a distance that NextEra Energy, which was proposing the Reno County development, agreed to. Labette County Commissioner Cole Proehl indicated previously his proposal of 1,600-foot setbacks from non-participating homes was based on his review of agreements that Kansas counties had with wind developers.
The Reno County development has resulted in at least one lawsuit.
“So it stands to reason just based on that information that 2,000 feet is not beyond the scope” of what a developer is willing to accept, Wilson said.
Residents in southeast Reno County wanted farther setbacks, 3,000 feet. In January, Reno County commissioners tentatively agreed to the 3,000-foot setback from homes and that the landowner could waive that recommendation, Wilson said.
She said Reno County’s population was 61,998 in 2019 and a petition from 500 Reno County citizens moved the commission in that county to take action.
Labette County’s population is 19,618.
“We have a petition here with 903 signatures from residents who wish to keep the wind farm out of Labette County,” Wilson told commissioners.
Wilson also shared personal testimony on the impact the development could have on her family. Her voice broke a couple of times while she read her statement and she stopped to gather herself. She said she has health concerns for her family and financial concerns for their property.
She and her husband bought their house and 10 acres from a foreclosure listing in the summer of 2009. The house was in rough condition. The couple fell in love with the property’s potential. They worked all summer on the house while tending to two youngsters and a new baby, she said, pausing to gather her emotions.
“Take your time,” Kinzie told her.
“Over the past 11 years we’ve poured more blood, sweat and tears and money into our home than I care to dwell on. We busted our tails trying to keep up with the mowing, the fences, painting, the laundry and baby, all with the understanding that it was an investment in our family’s future. Since then we’ve fallen in love with more than just the house,” she said.
She and her husband have made lifelong friends, got involved in school, church and community life.
“Our home is my happy place, our safe space, an oasis,” Wilson said.
Then came news of the wind development. If the wind development was just a matter of aesthetics, she could suck it up and take it. But a turbine is more than an “eyesore,” she said.
Wilson said she suffers migraines and has an extreme light and sound sensitivity. Her research shows that lights, sound and vibrations can be seen and felt within a 2-mile radius of the industrial wind farm. Her husband suffers severe vertigo. Sound, infrasound and vibrations can impact a person’s sense of balance and equilibrium, among other health concerns, Wilson said.
“So potentially my home could become the exact opposite of an oasis for both of us. But we’ll likely be left in a financial position where we literally cannot afford to sell and relocate,” Wilson said.
Her husband’s small business was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It faces significant financial hurdles that has prompted tough conversations. Wilson said studies show that residential property values decrease more than 20% when an industrial wind turbine is located within a mile of a home. She said other cases show values drop as much as 60%.
In 11 years, she and her husband have managed to pay down 30% of their mortgage. If the turbines come, they will be looking at the potential to lose most if not all of the equity that they worked to build. Plus the property will have reduced marketability “given the fact that there are far fewer people wanting to relocate into a wind farm than there are people wanting to relocate into the beautiful peace and quiet of rural Labette County, sans the industrial turbines,” Wilson said.
“And you get the fact that we’re stuck. To those that argue that this is the same risk property owners face everywhere, I can see how it’s easy to make this claim if you live in town with neighbors only feet away on all sides of your property,” she said.
That’s not the case in rural Labette County. “That’s one of the reasons we chose not to purchase in town. To those who argue about the noise and vibrations aren’t heard or felt near the turbines, I beg you to visit Neosho County and try testing that theory from one to two miles away rather than right underneath of one. There’s a big difference.”
She’s also concerned with the flashing red lights on the tops of turbines.
Other states have taken action regarding light and sound infringement.
“I also urge you to consider the perspective of the property rights of those who will be losing a good portion of the equity in theirs,” Wilson said.
She said she and her husband support green energy solutions. They seek renewable energy that will leave the environment in a better state of health for their children when they are gone.
“I just don’t believe that these giant industrial turbines are green,” Wilson said.
There are inroads into recycling the blades from the turbines. But that’s not at a large scale at this time. Unless RWE has specified in its contract that it will absorb the expense to have its turbine blades shredded and repurposed after decommissioning, it’s safe to say the blades will end up in a Wyoming landfill, she said.
And stating that we should install turbines now in the hope that by the time they wear out technology will have improved to allow for recycling is folly, she said.
“This is not only ludicrous but is extremely irresponsible and also half the reason we are in this energy mess to begin with,” Wilson said. And this does not take into account the energy used to manufacture, support, construct, decommission, deconstruct and transport and bury the blades.
Wilson said she was taught her voice has power, but she should use it respectfully. Being disrespectful only weakens credibility. She said it’s human nature to act in an atypical manner when one feels threatened.
“We, the rural residents of Labette County, feel threatened. Please be mindful of this when you brush folks off for behaving in a manner in which you deem as irrational. We’re backed into a corner here,” Wilson said.
She said she hopes commissioners will consider the impact of the turbines on landowners who came before the turbines. She hoped they would consider the 903 names on the petition against the development.
“We don’t want to be driven out, and we don’t want to lose all that we worked so hard to build here. My property rights matter, too,” she said.
Wilson said she hopes commissioners will not choose one individual’s rights over another’s. She hoped commissioners recognized the need to protect residents of Labette County in the footprint over landowners who do not live in the footprint.
“My pockets may not be as deep, but my vote didn’t count any less at the polls,” she said.
She told Kinzie she voted for him. She said she doesn’t know him but knows his son, Wes, and Wes’ wife, Nina.
“Your family ties to them bolstered my faith in you as a commissioner,” she said, so she voted for him.
“And now I’m asking you to protect me. I’m asking for all of you to protect me,” Wilson said.
“Amen,” someone said in the gallery, which then applauded Wilson.
A.J. Kohler, Altamont, spoke as a proponent of wind development.
He said he’s seen a lot of changes in Altamont over the years. At its peak, Huston Street had a nearly full business district. Now, the main street in Altamont has many vacant buildings. The city was “gouged” by an energy company during the natural gas crisis earlier this year and the city’s elderly cannot rest easily, he said. Kohler said he lost his part-time job during that crisis because his employer couldn’t afford to pay him and the utility bill.
Green energy is big in the U.S. The effects of pollution in the environment effect citizens’ lungs and the land.
“In a time where industry and people are leaving Labette County, one industry wants to come in and we want to refuse it. That’s like starving and refusing food because we don’t like the food,” Kohler said.
He said Labette County has a poverty rate of 15.8%, which means that more than 3,000 citizens live in poverty, and 27% of them are children. He gets the point of picking yourself up by your bootstraps, but people are leaving because government is not investing in the people.
Commissioners also allowed Ralph Goodwin to speak, even though he lives in Oklahoma just over the county line. Goodwin knows Kinzie and is friends with him.
He wanted Commissioners Kinzie and Proehl to give three reasons that they supported the wind turbines. Commissioner Lonie Addis is against the development.
Kinzie said it’s an industry, so good or bad the commission has to look at what it can bring to the county. Specifically, Kinzie said valuation, jobs and putting new money in residents’ pockets were his reasons. Proehl didn’t answer, though the discussion got redirected before he could.
Kinzie said the valuation would increase in the county once the turbines got on the tax rolls after 10 years.
Goodwin doubted that would happen and cited dealings with natural gas companies that changed ownership once the equipment wore out. He called wind energy a racket from global elites on down. He said wind developments split counties apart.
Mel Haas of Oswego asked commissioners if they would visit the wind farms in Neosho or Allen counties. Haas served on the county’s wind advisory group that studied the development during a moratorium on wind farm construction in the county.
Proehl said he would visit them on his own. Kinzie said he’s been in Neosho County a number of times.
Haas said he would be disappointed if commissioners didn’t visit the wind farms.
In other business, the commission:
— Signed applications for emergency management performance grants for Emergency Management for 2019 and 2020.
— Heard that delivery of the new air trailer to be used by rural fire departments to refill air tanks for firefighters has been delayed. Estimated delivery is between August and December. 1st Due, which is the vendor for the trailer, also cannot take the county’s current air truck used for the same service as a trade in. Federal COVID-19 relief money was used for the purchase of the new air trailer.
— Agreed to place an ad in newspapers to seek a new cleaning service for Labette County buildings in Parsons: the Labette County Judicial Center and its annex and the Labette County Health Department. Martin’s Cleaning Crew LLC provided a 30-day notice that its service will end June 3.
— Agreed to meet with County Appraiser DeLinda White to discuss her next four-year appointment as appraiser before the county counselor draws up a resolution reappointing her. Commissioners had advertised for her position and received two resumes. They will cancel that job listing. Commissioners have considered sharing an appraiser with a neighboring county but that idea didn’t pan out. The county has been in compliance on its appraisals with White at the helm.
— Heard a request from Proehl for the commission to consider chipping and sealing 22000 Road from U.S. 59 to Pratt Road. A day care that will have up to 60 children will be opening there in the fall, increasing traffic and safety concerns, and he also wants the state to consider extending the stepped down speed zone (45 mph) to closer to the day care intersection. Kinzie also wanted to find out if that stepped down speed zone could be moved south of the trash transfer station. The cost estimate for the chipping and sealing is $24,600 for material only. Kinzie said in the past commissions have asked property owners on both sides of the road to chip in for the cost of the work depending on their frontage access to the road. No decision was made.
— Agreed to purchase three 10-foot Bad AZZ fans for the county barn in Altamont at a cost of $17,498.80 from ICR Electric, Oswego.
— Agreed to purchase new 200-watt lights for the county barn in Altamont from ICR Electric, Oswego, at a cost of $8,762.71.
— Agreed to engage an engineering firm to help draw up plans and bid specifications for rebuilding the county shop building and salt shed in Oswego. The building was damaged in the July 11, 2020, wind and hail storm in Oswego. The county received $71,457 from insurance for the damage to the buildings.
— Paid $109,672.17 in bills for the county.
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