OSWEGO — Labette County commissioners on Monday agreed to extend the moratorium on wind energy development in the county for another four months.
On a 2-1 vote, the commissioners extended the moratorium that expires Friday. The extension runs four months. But the committee that’s investigating wind farm development will have to report its findings or recommendations within three months to the commission. The committee has not met since March 9 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its first meeting since the pandemic will be at 6 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Edna Grade School gymnasium.
In late October, Commissioner Lonie Addis made a motion to extend the moratorium. The motion came only minutes after new Commissioner Cole Proehl was appointed to complete the term of former Commissioner Doug Allen. Proehl wanted to have time to study the issue before deciding. So Addis’ motion died. Monday’s was the last commission meeting before the moratorium expires.
The wind farm committee has a number of areas to study, among them are decommissioning wind turbines and the impact of wind development on roads, neighboring properties, wildlife and the environment. They also established recommendations for meteorological towers that a wind developer is using to measure wind in a target area in the western half of Labette County. RWE, a German utility, is exploring the possibility of developing a wind farm in western Labette County. RWE also is collecting lease agreements.
Addis again made a motion to extend the moratorium for six months.
“I want this to move along as fast as possible,” he said Monday.
Proehl did not second the motion and said he wanted to discuss the issue.
Proehl said he’s visited with attorneys, title companies and landowners and reviewed lawsuits about wind development. He said what he found was that moratoriums need to have specific goals and deadlines to be enforceable. They cannot be arbitrary without opening the county to litigation from wind companies and landowners.
If moratoriums go on for lengthy periods without boards making decisions on setbacks or decommissioning, the boards may be in legal trouble.
Proehl said the committee studying these issues has a lot to offer and has done a lot of research.
“I would like them to finish that,” he said.
He proposed giving the committee 90 days to finish its work and report to the commission. And he proposed extending the moratorium only four months to give the commission time to make decisions based on the committee’s recommendations and from other discussions.
“That’s what I feel is the best compromise at this point,” Proehl said.
Addis said he’s not anti-wind farm. But he is concerned about landowners who have scrimped and saved to make their homes and have them possibly impacted by wind development on neighboring property. He said he didn’t want the children and grandchildren of Labette Countians to inherit problems because the commission didn’t have a decommissioning agreement in place. Addis pounded on his desk as he made his points.
He noted the oil and gas companies that came through the county years back left issues for landowners by not cleaning up the wells. These oil and gas wells changed hands several times and the wind farm will change hands several times as well, Addis said. Having a strong financial bond in place for the decommissioning agreement will help.
Both Addis and Proehl agreed the wind farm could be sold several times before the decommissioning agreement’s terms would need to be implemented.
“No matter what we put in a contract it’s not going to be admissible or enforceable in 25 years,” Proehl said.
But he agreed with Addis that a good bond attached to the decommissioning agreement was needed. Wind developers will generally fund a bond amount to pay for decommissioning, or taking down, the wind turbines once they’ve reached the end of their useful life.
Proehl said he’s also studied setbacks in Kansas counties and each is different. They vary from 2,500 to 1,000 feet, he said. Commissioners need to determine what is best for Labette County.
“I live here, too. I don’t want these things wreaking havoc for the next 25 years here. But I also don’t want to put a blanket length of time that we end up in litigation over it,” Proehl said.
He said he knows some landowners will profit from wind development and others will not want to participate. But he doesn’t want landowners to feel railroaded.
Addis said he was willing to extend the moratorium based on Proehl’s suggestion.
Proehl said wanted to make clear that he is not anti-moratorium. He just didn’t want to make a decision in October without studying the matter.
He said he wants to make sure the county has made its decisions before the wind developer has bulldozers ready to go.
Commissioner Fred Vail said he didn’t think the county needed to extend the moratorium. He thinks the committee should continue to work and study but report its findings to the commission soon. He was pleased with the work Proehl put into the issue and the issues he brought up.
Addis’ motion died for lack of a second. But he said the commission represents landowners who have signed leases with RWE and those who have not. He was concerned that those in the footprint of the wind farm will have lives disrupted from the development.
Vail said that’s only a potential.
“You don’t know that,” he said.
Brian Kinzie, who will take Vail’s seat in January, said the county needs a good road use agreement. He didn’t think a wind farm would be a disruption over the 30 years of its life. He said he’s had no phone calls from those in Vail’s Second District opposing the wind farm.
Proehl said he’s heard from Second District residents and others who are for and against the development.
“I’ve had both sides from all over,” Proehl said. But commissioners don’t just represent those who love it or hate it. Most of the residents are somewhere in between those opposites.
Proehl then made his motion to extend the moratorium for four months and set a deadline of three months for the wind committee to make its findings known to the commission.
Addis seconded the motion.
Addis and Proehl voted for the motion and Vail voted against it. The extension passed.