Pressed by a southeast Reno County resident on Tuesday for an idea when the Reno County Commission would once again take up proposed regulations for commercial wind development in the county, a majority of the commission agreed to renew discussions next month.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit by NextEra Energy on the proposed development of an 82-turbine wind farm in southeast Reno County remains pending before the Kansas Court of Appeals.
The commission tabled discussion on the regulations on March 10, and then twice more after that.
More recently, a majority, led by Commissioner Daniel Friesen, have thwarted efforts by Commission Chairman Ron Hirst to put the item back on the commission agenda or even to discuss when they might renew the debate.
“In regard to the wind farm regulations, where exactly does this process stand?” Tyler Ryan, of rural Haven, asked the commission during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting. “What kind of timeline are we looking at?”
“I’m just asking as someone that lives in the southeast part of the county that has a vested interest in this,” he said. “I’m curious where the process lies, and what timeframe you’re looking at from your perspective.”
At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Ron Sellers said he supported Commission Chairman Ron Hirst on putting the item back on the agenda “sometime in September.”
Whether it would be at the board’s first or second meeting of the month has not been determined.
Friesen said he wanted a decision before the November election because he didn’t want the issue to play into a ballot question on the proposed expansion of the county commission to five members, but he thought there was still more time to allow some consensus to be reached.
“I appreciate Tyler Ryan’s comments and I think I appreciate, generally, where the chairman is on his opinion that we need a decision on wind,” Friesen said. “I agree with you both that it can’t just lay in limbo forever.”
“I disagree a little bit with the idea this process we’ve been working on has been going on a long time,” he continued. “Comparatively speaking, for a long process … my involvement in this has only been about six months. That’s a reasonable timeframe given the magnitude of the decisions.”
“I’m a little disappointed… that some of our economic interests can’t solve this without our regulatory hand in this,” Friesen said. “But it is what it is. I agree a decision will be coming this fall.”
The NextEra lawsuit was docketed with the Kansas Court of Appeals on Oct. 2, 2020, after former Reno County District Judge Tim Chambers ruled in favor of landowners on a primary issue in the case and the corporation appealed.
Attorneys at the time said an appeal would likely take a year.
The latest action listed in the case on the appellate docket was on Tuesday when a record was ordered from the Reno County Clerk of the District Court.
The notation did not say what the record requested was, and there is nothing posted about it yet in the Reno County case file.
Before that, the latest action were briefs filed in reply to earlier filings by both sides in late January.
NextEra is challenging a petition filed by a majority of landowners within a certain distance of proposed turbines sites which forced a unanimous Reno County Commission vote to grant a conditional use permit for its project.
NextEra filed the suit in July 2019, after the county commission voted 2-1 to grant the permit.
Chambers ruled against NextEra in June of 2020 on one issue, and the company dismissed the rest of the suit in order to appeal.
NextEra is a Florida-based corporation that last year reported more than $18 billion in revenue.
Company officials told the Reno County Commission at least twice in 2018 that any delays in permitting would kill the project because it needed to be operable before the end of 2019 to qualify for federal tax breaks and to meet energy delivery obligations.
One of those times was during a county commission debate in December 2018 when landowners sought a 6-month moratorium on development to allow the county to draft commercial wind regulations.
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