Labette County Commissioner Lonie Addis again tried to put a pause on a potential wind energy development, but as expected he was alone on the issue.
During a regular meeting on Monday morning, Addis moved that the commission impose an 18-month moratorium on wind energy in the county.
“It’s the most important thing I’ve ever dealt with as a county commissioner,” Addis said.
Addis has been a county commissioner since 1983.
The motion died for a lack of a second from Commissioners Cole Proehl and Brian Kinzie.
The motion followed discussion on RWE Renewables’ exploration of a development of a wind farm that would have 50 to 75 turbines generating between 200 and 250 megawatts of power on the west side of the county. 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.
A previous one-year moratorium on wind energy development expired on March 9. Addis on March 8 moved twice that the moratorium be extended, but neither of the other two commissioners would second those motions. Addis brought up the topic of a moratorium again in mid-April, but Kinzie and Proehl weren’t interested then either. Addis said on Monday he already knew the outcome of his new motion for a moratorium but made it anyway.
Josh Ghering, who lives in Kinzie’s commission district but outside of the proposed footprint of the wind development being considered by RWE, spoke to the commission about his concerns with the wind farm before Addis’ motion. Ghering requested a moratorium in last week’s meeting.
Ghering said with all of the concerns regarding health for those living near wind turbines, a vote in favor of the wind energy development would go against Kinzie’s statement about his top priority being the county residents’ health and well being. Kinzie disputed that, saying that Ghering has his sources, but Kinzie has read conflicting information, referring to a report from Iowa, a state with a longer experience with wind energy than Kansas.
Ghering also challenged Proehl, who has said moratoriums are not enforceable. Ghering said that is not true and that moratoriums are enforceable if they meet specific goals and deadlines.
“From my research they are not enforceable,” Proehl responded.
Proehl asked Ghering what he hoped to gain from a moratorium, and Ghering said it would allow the county to bring to light more information on the health and safety impacts of wind turbines in residential areas. Proehl said the county also must look at other research also, not just research that backs up wind farm opposition. He said wind farm opponents aren’t taking into account results from research that doesn’t support their views.
Ghering also said a moratorium would allow the county to call for a vote on an issue that is beyond the scope of what commissioners are asked to do.
“That’s clearly an untrue statement,” County Counselor Brian Johnson said.
Johnson said there are no limitations in Kansas statutes on county commission’s authority regarding wind energy development. Moratoriums need to be based on more than just not wanting wind energy development, he said.
At one point, Addis became agitated with the other two commissioners because of their attitudes toward Ghering. He said Ghering and the others attending the meeting were concerned about something that could affect the next 40 years of their lives and the lives of their families, and as long as Addis was there, they would be able to talk about their concerns.
Johnson argued with Ghering about the effectiveness of a moratorium and stopping a wind energy development in the county. Ghering should be requesting zoning instead, Johnson said.
“You cannot stop a wind farm without zoning,” Johnson said.
All of the commissioners and many residents in the county oppose countywide zoning.
Addis told Johnson to let Ghering speak, saying Ghering isn’t an attorney like Johnson and didn’t bring an attorney with him to argue about law.
Ghering acknowledged that most people in the county would oppose zoning, but he said a resolution could be approved by the commission to stop wind energy development in the county without implementing zoning. He presented information on legal cases backing up his position.
Ghering also asked if RWE had presented any information about the potential impacts on wildlife, but Kinzie and Proehl said none of that is known yet.
“We got to get these studies done so we know,” Kinzie said.
Proehl said wind energy is not perfect, but the county needs to have dialogue with RWE and others to weigh the pros and cons. Proehl also said that if RWE walks away from the wind energy development, the company would simply sell its leases to the next highest bidder, another company that would more aggressively seek to place turbines in the county.
Addis, the chairman of the commission, allowed others not on the agenda to ask questions near the end of Monday’s meeting. One person asked if RWE has responded to a resolution that Proehl and Kinzie approved laying out the groundwork for an agreement for the wind farm. The resolution called on RWE to respond within 45 days, which has passed. Addis said the company has not responded. When asked if the commission could approve a new resolution asking RWE to respond, Addis said he could make that motion, but it wouldn’t go far.
“This commission is very vehemently split,” Addis said.
Dave Oas of Parsons asked if the commission had compiled data about people in the county who have voiced an opinion on the wind farm. Addis said each of the commissioners have heard from many people individually, but they have not compiled that information. He said about 85% of the people he has heard from oppose the wind farm.
At one point Addis told Kinzie he could leave the meeting if he didn’t agree with allowing the public to ask questions. Kinzie said he was ready to adjourn the meeting and that Addis could talk to people after the meeting.
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