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Labette County woman seeks to use initiative process to impose wind regs

In Reno County, a protest petition managed to stop the construction of an industrial wind generation facility, but a Labette County woman is hoping to use the initiative process to set wind farm regulations in her county. 

Mound Valley resident Debbie Cramer says she’s not opposed to wind power but is concerned about the overall lack of regulation in the State of Kansas.

Senator Mike Thompson (R-Shawnee) has proposed legislation – SB279 – to correct the situation but has been reluctant to try to bring the matter to a floor vote until he can be assured he has the votes.

Cramer said county officials have been moving slowly and have seemed reluctant to fight the farms.  In fact, two Labette County commissioners have been slapped down by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt for violations of the Kansas Open Meetings Act related to the wind farm proposal.

The Parsons Sun reports that commissioners Brian Kinzie and Cole Proehl – who have said they are neutral on the wind proposals – discussed fellow commissioner Lonnie Addis’ opposition to wind development and that they were “tired of it.”

Kinzie is now the subject of a recall petition.

Despite saying they are neutral, Kinzie and Proehl proposed – and passed over Addis’ objections – a resolution laying out “negotiating points” for the project with RWE Renewables.  An Open Records request by the Sentinel to Labette County found that 25 leases have so far been registered with the county, and – according to the Sun, Proehl said 25,000 acres in the county have already been leased.

Faced with the prospect of wind turbines being built within 600 feet of the Mound Valley elementary school, a county commission in at least tacit support of the facilities – and the lack of state-wide regulation on wind turbine construction – Cramer hit the books.

And she came up with something rather unique.

Kansas is one of the few states with a law allowing private citizens to propose an ordinance at the city or county level (quite a few states allow ballot initiatives for state laws). KSA 12-25-3601 allows residents to propose an ordinance to the city or county and – if the governing body doesn’t pass the proposed ordinance – force a special election.

Currently, Labette County residents have not had a direct say in whether or not they want a wind generation facility in their area. Cramer seeks to correct that, by putting Thompson’s bill in front of the commission – or on the ballot – as the proposed regulations for Labette County.

“I kept thinking that the county, we were going to be hearing about a county, maybe in county zoning, some kind of a meeting that would (allow residents to have an effective say,)” Cramer said in a recent interview. “Concerned about that, I just kept moving, thinking ‘well maybe our city will do something.’

“But seeing nothing was being done to protect me, my family, my neighbors, and the next generation – I’m talking about just some basic regulations – I felt compelled to get involved and see what could be done.”

Cramer’s health is not conducive to leading the effort but even so, she’s charging ahead.  She is hoping to find some help to move this forward, and simply bring some standardized regulations to wind generation in her part of the state.

Thompson was excited to hear of Cramer’s plan.

“Using Senate Bill 279 as a guideline for county restrictions and limitations on the wind companies is a very smart idea,” he said via email. “We constructed that legislation based on common sense ideas being used both nationally and internationally in areas where people have had first-hand experiences with the problems created by industrial wind.

“We must protect Kansans’s health, safety, and land values. and that’s what the guidelines set forth in SB 279 are all about. Since the residents who are faced with the impending installation of these massive turbines can’t wait for the state to act, it only makes sense for them to use their local control to do it themselves. I applaud them for it.”

Lack of regulation impacts residents

Currently, there are few state regulations on where and how wind turbines can be sited.  There are no setback standards – the distance a turbine can be from an inhabited dwelling or occupied building, such as a school.  The setback standard should specify whether the measurement is from the building itself or from the property line, what distance that must be, or how close turbines may be to a road. Most of those decisions are made by county commissions on an individual basis – and, according to Thompson – mostly upon the recommendations of the utility companies themselves.

Moreover, the agreements the utility companies offer residents border on being predatory.

Washburn University Law Professor Roger A. McEowen in 2016 authored a nine-page paper outlining many of the issues with the leases.

For instance, the lease should state that the landowner is “not liable for the negligence of others with respect to wind turbines.”

Moreover, while the agreements usually give the company the exclusive right to develop the land for the turbines for two to five years, the company will have the right to operate the turbines for as much as fifty years.

His paper concludes – in part – “from a landowner’s perspective, many wind energy leases and/or easements are inadequate, unfair and offer limited economic benefits when compared to the revenues generated (and tax subsidies received) by large scale wind energy developers. The most common shortcomings of such agreements include (1) contractual terms extending too long into the future; (2) contractual language that binds landowners to unilateral amendments; (3) inadequate compensation clauses (and compensation clauses that are difficult to understand); (4) provisions that are the result of unequal bargaining power.”