Just before 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Reno County Commission voted unanimously to ban commercial wind development in all zoned areas of the county.
A plan to create a new zoning overlay district that would regulate wind for the remaining unzoned areas of the county, however, was tabled until Jan. 11.
A countywide moratorium on commercial wind development remains in place through mid-March.
Tuesday’s vote prohibiting wind energy conversion systems or WECS in certain parts of the county came more than three years after a pair of residents first appeared before the Reno County Commission seeking a moratorium on wind development. That after NextEra Energy began buying up land leases for a proposed wind farm in the southeast quadrant of the county, near their homes.
Both those women have since moved away, and a subsequent lawsuit NextEra filed after their pursuit of a conditional use permit failed, remains pending before the Kansas Court of appeals.
There was little comment from the commission before the vote on Tuesday, other than from Commissioner Daniel Friesen, who continued to take umbrage with county planning staff for recommending against the ban.
“This commission is the only place where we can stop this cycle of turmoil in the county,” Friesen said. “I think that’s what our intent was… I’m very interested in using our ability in the public interest, with the factors we’re considering here, to set a new course for this county and move on with this issue. Without a strong decision, I don’t think we’re going to be able to move forward.”
“I’m disappointed, frankly, in myself for not being able to help lead in a solution to getting wind investment in this county,” Friesen said. “But it became apparent over time there just wasn’t a solution available. In these densely populated areas, we had overwhelming dissent for investment in these wind turbines, so I’m in support of the amendment. I appreciate the staff’s work on the change. No matter the process, it got us here… I’m thankful we can put this issue to bed.”
The proposal to create the overlay district was unanimously recommended by the Reno County Planning Commission last month after the county commission signaled its desire to do so.
However, the commission tabled it Tuesday because it references a set of regulations the commission also previously tabled and that have not yet been finalized.
Those regulations would set minimum distances commercial wind turbines would have to be set back from homes, property lines, and roads, and maximum amounts of noise and shadow flicker the turbines would be allowed to create.
The planning staff included draft regulations as part of the proposal to create the overlay zone, but they were from the original proposal that was adopted months ago by the planning commission.
The county commission wrangled with those regulations over several months in the spring and summer, agreeing on several changes before hitting a stalemate and tabling them indefinitely.
The commission agreed they wanted to take the restrictions up again before adopting them as part of the zoning regulations creating the new countywide overlay zone.
“We don’t have many we disagree on,” said Commission Chairman Ron Hirst. “I don’t want to come back and have to change items and go through this whole process again. I don’t think any of us want to do that… I don’t think we should abandon the process to save time today.”
Commissioner Ron Sellers said he didn’t necessarily agree that the commission was that close on finalizing the rules, but he also agreed to table the issue to discuss the rules further.
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