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Kansas lawmaker, a clean energy skeptic, takes aim at wind and solar power in new bills  

Credit:  KS wind farm developments could halt under Senate bills | By Lucy Peterson | The Wichita Eagle | February 03, 2022 | www.kansas.com ~~

One of the Kansas Senate’s leading critics of renewable energy is sponsoring a bill that advocates warn could curtail the growth of wind and solar power in rural counties.

Sen. Mike Thompson, a Shawnee Republican and former longtime television meteorologist, has introduced a measure that would require wind and solar farms be built on land zoned for industrial use. Because about half of the state’s 105 counties are rural and unzoned, renewables supporters said the bill could effectively halt the growth of an energy sector that in 2020 provided 44% of Kansas’ in-state electricity generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“It would be sending a message…that, well perhaps Oklahoma, or Missouri, or Nebraska, or Texas or Iowa would be a better and more stable state in which to invest dollars,”said Kimberly Svaty, a public policy consultant for the Kansas Power Alliance, which represents the state’s clean energy industry.

“People often think of renewable energy as wind and at times solar. But in the case of the next generation energy economy, renewable wind is really the beginning,” Svaty added. “It’s wind, it’s solar, it’s battery storage, it’s dealing with nitrogen replacements among many other things, all of which Kansas is standing to be really well positioned to see unprecedented investment from the economic standpoint.”

Kansas had the second largest share of wind-generated energy in the country in 2020. It is the least expensive energy source in Kansas and has created 22,000 direct and indirect jobs in the state, according to an 2020 economic impact report by the Kansas City-based Polsinelli law firm.

Thompson, who chairs the Senate Utilities Committee, said the bill is intended to add transparency, not halt the growth of renewables. He said industrial wind and solar companies acquire leases for renewable energy farms secretly, so community members can’t oppose the construction of wind turbines or solar panels.

“All I’m trying to do is make it so that (wind and solar developers) have to file something so that neighbors can kind of see what’s going on and understand it,” Thompson said. “Because obviously if you have a 500 or 600-foot turbine that’s going to be placed on your neighbors property but it’s 1,500 feet away from your house, which was happening quite a bit, there are health and safety concerns that you want a say over.”

But industry advocates say the zoning requirement in Thompson’s bill is a clear case of government overreach.

“It forces zoning upon counties that have chosen not to be zoned, and that is remarkable,” said Alan Anderson, vice-chairman of Polsinelli’s energy practice group. “To have Topeka and the legislature dictate to rural counties and say, ‘You don’t get to pick what you want to do, we will decide that for you and you’re going to have to be zoned if you want renewable energy projects,’ is pretty amazing.”

Thompson said he’s working to revise the bill to find alternate language around the question of zoning, but declined to comment on whether it would be removed altogether.

He has long expressed skepticism of clean energy and climate change, which he considers an ideology, not a science. In a Facebook post last year he argued that the wind industry is a financial drag on the state and utility customers.

“Would you buy a car that would only run when the wind is blowing a certain speed, or the sun is shining? If your answer is no, then explain the logic of using taxpayer dollars to replace reliable sources of generation with unreliable ones,” Thompson wrote.

Wind, however, has proved reliable in Kansas. During last year’s February cold snap in the Midwest, the renewable energy source performed as expected while other energy sources faltered.

A similar bill to restrict wind and solar energy was heard in committee last year, but never came to a vote.

Wind and solar have sparked debates about property rights in unzoned counties. In 2020, residents of Nemaha County in northeast Kansas overwhelmingly opposed construction of a new wind farm by NextEra Energy Resources.

“Most people in this county don’t like to be told what to do by the government,” said Dylan Keim, a commissioner. They don’t want somebody coming in and telling them how to construct something. They don’t want a homeowners association out in rural America.”

Nemaha County is unzoned, but a planning committee was recently established to look into zoning, Keim said. Some of his county may support the bill because of their opposition to wind turbines, however, he said.

Thompson introduced two other bills last week that would tighten requirements for wind and solar energy development. One would require adding a paragraph in 16-point font to leases urging landowners to get a lawyer if they want to negotiate changes to the project.

The other would consider a wind or solar project abandoned if nothing was constructed on leased land within three years.

Source:  KS wind farm developments could halt under Senate bills | By Lucy Peterson | The Wichita Eagle | February 03, 2022 | www.kansas.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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