May 18, 2024

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Reno County wind farm blocked, lawsuit under way

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At least one potential wind project in Kansas has been stopped — at least for now.

A petition circulated in Reno County last year blocked the issuance of a permit to the company seeking to develop an industrial wind generation facility near Pretty Prairie. The petition required a unanimous vote of the Reno County Commission to move the permit forward, and with a 2-1 vote, effectively killed the permit for the facility. The wind company — Pretty Prairie Wind LLC, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy — sued “on behalf of the leaseholders,” and on the grounds that the protest petition blocking the project was improper.

However a district court judge dismissed the case, finding the petition was properly handled, and the company immediately appealed. That case is currently in the courts.

Reno County resident Steve Westphalia was one of those who opposed the wind farms in his area.

“Our county zoning board had regulations that were absolutely minimal,” Westphalia said. “They wanted turbines to be a lot closer to us than we wanted them to be.”

This is a common refrain from residents in areas where wind companies hope to build.  The setback is often no more than double — sometimes just one and a half times — blade height, meaning turbines can be within as little as 500 feet away from a school, as is Labette County.

Opponents of the farms are often accused of caring only about their property values, however, there are other concerns.

“You can hear a turbine from a long way off,” Westphalia said. “You get shadow flicker, you get noise, you get lights at night. It’s very disrupting.”

Flicker is a condition — for approximately 30 to 40 minutes in the morning and evening —  when the sun is in the right position and the shadows cast by the enormous blades “flicker” as the turbine spins.

“It’s just blink, blink, blink, it’s like a strobe light going off,” Westphalia said, noting that those who choose not to participate in a wind farm project have property rights as well. 

He said the wind companies dismiss flicker as “not really an issue” and suggests putting up thicker curtains or planting windrows, but the leases can run as much as 50 years making it an intergenerational quality of life problem.

“We want to live with a quality of life, that’s why we live out here,” he said. “We do not want to have to live that close to a turbine. We want the turbines to be a mile away (from the property line of anyone not participating in the project.”

The hotly-debated “wind syndrome” is also an issue. 

While some of the alleged symptoms of wind syndrome — such as diabetes and skin cancer are highly unlikely — studies have linked insomnia and other conditions such as tinnitus, and vertigo to the low-frequency sound from the turbines.

While other studies have found no connection, wind proponents often resort to derision.

One writer in the New Scientist pens: “There are several reasons to suspect that the unrecognised entity of wind turbine syndrome is psychogenic: a “communicated” disease spread by anti-wind interest groups, sometimes with connections to fossil fuel interests. People can worry themselves sick.”

Moreover, while the effects — or existence of — wind syndrome may be debatable, what is not debatable is that a study of wind leases by Washburn University Law Professor Roger A. McEowen in 2016 showed that the leases often are borderline predatory and prevent landowners from terminating the leases for good cause.  McEowen writes, “…  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.” 

Money and power drive wind farm decisions

Westphalia notes that county officials — in Reno County, at least — are doing what they can but the money and power of the wind industry make for a tough opponent.

“There’s just way too much money being thrown at wind energy,” he said. “The federal government gave them millions of dollars of tax incentives to get into the wind energy business. 

“They’re not going to let a bunch of little bitty old people out here, owning a few thousand dollars worth of ground … stop them from making millions of dollars a year in tax incentives.”

Last year, a campaign finance report from American Energy Action Kansas shows the Kansas wind industry spent more than $180,000 supporting 21 candidates for the Kansas House and Senate over a three-week period.

It’s a difficult fight, Westphalia said.

“That’s the bottom line. In our county, our county officials are fighting and doing what they can, but you know they’re just local township people or local county people,” he said. “They are not equipped to battle that much power and money. And that’s what we’re up against.

“Look, to me, the people out here ought to be the ones deciding. It shouldn’t be a bunch of politicians and a bunch of high dollar money from a wind company that tells us where they want to put the turbines.”

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