Last legislative session Senator Mike Thompson introduced a bill that would have established statewide standards for the rapidly proliferating — and often highly controversial — wind turbines across the state.
Senate Bill 279, called the “Wind Generation Permit and Property Protection Act” imposes certain requirements on the siting of wind turbines that would bring order to the current chaos of wind farm requirements in the state.
Currently, there are few state regulations on where and how wind turbines can be sited, whether the “setback” — or distance a turbine can be from an inhabited dwelling or occupied building, such as a school — 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.
For instance, Thompson said in Labette County, the REW Wind Company’s proposal would put a turbine within 500 feet of a school — a potential safety hazard in the winter.
“I mean, first of all, that’s dangerous,” he said. “There was an Apex ice throw study that showed that ice particles could be thrown 3200 feet.”
Ice throw is confirmed by a General Electric study that stated “… rotating turbine blades may propel ice fragments some distance from the turbine — up to several hundred meters if conditions are right.”
Some experts suggest a minimum setback of at least a mile, or a bit more, from any dwelling or occupied structure, and in Ireland, a bill was proposed in 2014 to mandate a setback of 10 times the height of the turbine.
Thompson said in one county the proposed setback is 1.2 times the height of the blade tip — perhaps 1,000 feet — and usually measured from the base of the tower, not the property line.
“It really should be much more significant than that,” he said. “That’s why I had a mile in my SB 279 from any property to mitigate any potential hazards.”
According to Thompson, the lease agreements — which can run as much as 40 pages — are often confusing at best, and disingenuous at worst.
“They’re being disingenuous with adjacent landowners about who’s signing up the leases,” Thompson said. “They might say, ‘hey your neighbor just signed the lease, you might as well get in on this too,’ and taking advantage of the fact that people don’t read these leases.”
Indeed, Washburn University Law Professor Roger A. McEowen in 2016 authored a nine-page paper outlining many of those risks.
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.
Additionally, among other issues, McEowen says: “… wind energy agreements typically prevent a landowner from terminating an agreement or taking action against the wind energy company due to noise, flicker, electromagnetic interference with global positioning systems, vibrations, air turbulence, and other effects caused by the wind turbines.” 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.”
Prospects for SB 279
Thompson hopes to take the bill out of committee and to a floor vote in the next session, admitting he did not this year because he didn’t feel he had the votes. Wind companies spend a lot of money getting friendly legislators elected, which is part of the reason it is challenging to get consumer protections on wind turbines.
“It’s an uphill lift when you’ve got these wind companies coming into committee with high-powered lawyers and slick presentations,” he said. “But we had some great presentations from landowners.”That’s part of the reason I did not send it to the Senate floor or even take a vote because I want to make sure that when I do it, I’ve got the votes to do something.”