One by one nearly a dozen Harvey County residents approached the Harvey County Commission last week to speak out – nearly all asking the commission to bring back a tabled resolution that would put a moratorium on wind farms.
“Please pass a moratorium to take the time needed to ensure a wise decision is made in regard to wind turbines in Harvey County,” said Judy Welfelt of Newton.
“It would be irresponsible and very likely could be tragic.”
Many who spoke to the county commission last week were members of the Facebook group Stop the Wind Turbines Harvey County Kansas, which has been active for a few weeks and currently shows 395 members.
They were speaking in preparation for a meeting of the Harvey County Planning and Zoning Commission, which is set to meet at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 14 at The Meridian Center, to discuss regulations and zoning requirements for commercial wind turbines.
Proposed changes include a 1,500 foot setback from property lines, provisions accounting for shadow flicker, a bond process for decommissioning of turbines and a complaint process for noise and health concerns which could lead to the decommissioning of turbines.
Commissioner Chip Westfall said the location of the meeting could be changed from the courthouse – based on expected attendance. The county may seek a larger facility to host the meeting.
Those who spoke discussed health concerns, ice throws, shadow flicker, depressed property values and the effect on non-participating property owners if the project moves forward – which it could do as early as next year.
“I think the impact of wind turbines on this county over 96 year period potentially is going to be earth shattering,” said John Voght of
“I was offered leases, and I read them, and that is how I read the leases I was offered. … I feel like the planning and zoning board should not have to work under this kind of a situation. I feel like a moratorium gives time for the public to be more aware and to give their input.”
NextEra Energy announced about a year ago the company’s intention to locate wind turbines in Harvey County.
During the county commission meeting county administrator Anthony Swartzendruber reported receiving a letter from NextEra representatives stating the company does not anticipate seeking permits before April of 2023 – about a month later than company representatives stated launch of the permit process would be when pressed in July during a discussion of a possible six month moratorium.
It was that timeline information in July, along with statements by several area landowners discussing what the “optics” of a temporary moratorium would be, that ultimately led the commission to table Resolution 2022-10 on July 26.
“We tabled the moratorium because they said they would not be ready to apply for anything,” said commissioner Randy Hague.
“It was going to be a six month moratorium, and obviously that is more than six months away.”
The resolution, which was set to expire by January 26, 2023, directed the Harvey County Planning and Zoning Department and Harvey County Planning Commission “to suspend acting upon” any application received for a conditional use permit or for permits for the construction of any commercial wind energy project in the county. If further stated that all commercial wind energy projects in unincorporated areas of the county are “suspended and prohibited.”
Last week the commission heard from property owners who want the commission to bring back that moratorium as the planning and zoning board continues working.
“I am asking for the moratorium to be put in place … for an indefinite period of time so that it will be official, rather than relying on the word of NextEra and its timeline,” said Susan Krehbiel of Halstead.
“We the people of Harvey County are either going to lose out or benefit from the decisions that are made here. We need absolute assurance that ample time will be allowed for determining what is best for our county.”
Westfall said the goal in July was to give the planning and zoning commission, and a comprehensive planning group, time to create regulations for alternative energy projects.
Where wind turbines could be permitted as part of a wind farm project by NextEra Energy in Harvey County are already limited the county passed a resolution in 2019 setting limits for wind turbines.
In July not only did the timeline of NextEra Energy get refined, but the size of the project. Both of those items have been in question nearly from the day the project was first announced last year.
“Due to economies of scale, and some other, we would say a minimum of 60 turbines is what we are targeting,” said Fiona Bagwell of NextEra, the company studying Harvey County for a project.
“How much bigger we would go would depend on landowners and their interest.
Bagwell said the company has not only met with some landowners, but also fire departments and emergency workers in both Harvey and Reno Counties. Based on those meetings, the company does not anticipate placing turbines in the Sand Hills region.
There is currently a less stringent moratorium in place. Resolution 2019-19,creates a moratorium for turbines being placed in a flood plain, and, a limit that “No Renewable Energy Equipment shall be located closer than 2,000 feet from an active residential building.”
The county has been working on zoning and permitting of wind energy turbines in the county – something that is currently governed by the 2019 moratorium and conditional use permits. During the July 12 meeting of the planning and zoning board, members reported requests from county residents to ban commercial wind farms in Harvey County. There are bans in surrounding counties – Sedgwick and McPherson counties have a total moratorium while portions of Reno, Butler and Marion counties have partial bans.
Those were considered, along with other regulations in surrounding counties.
NextEra has constructed wind farms in Kingman, Pratt, Ellis, Marshall and Nemaha counties. In 2019 the company finished the Pratt Wind Energy Center in the southwest part of Pratt County. Ninety-eight Siemens Gamesa turbines and eight GE turbines, capable of generating 245 megawatts of electricity that can power 73,500 homes per year were put in place. The rotor diameter of the Siemens Gamesa turbines is 108 meters. Each turbine weighs approximately 633,707 pounds.
Construction on the wind project lasted approximately seven months and was completed in November 2018. During construction, the project created 250 construction jobs. With the wind farm is operational, 12 full-time jobs are required for daily maintenance.
All of the power from the Pratt wind project is being sold to Great Plains Energy Incorporated, a holding company based in Kansas City, Missouri that owns electric utility Kansas City Power and Light Company and Strategic Energy, LLC, an energy management company.
Pratt Wind Energy Center, is considered a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, operator of seven Kansas wind projects and the world’s largest operator of renewable energy from the wind and the sun, according to Kennedy.
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