ERIE — Green wind energy sounds appealing as companies propose leasing land to build new wind farms that would help counties with job creation and economic development efforts.
Concerned citizens in Neosho County have been researching the impacts of wind farms on counties and found things to not be so green, including claimed financial benefits to counties and landowners.
About 30 people met Wednesday night at Tony’s Function Junction south of Erie to discuss the proposed Apex Clean Energy wind farm project in Neosho County and to share what they’ve found about wind projects in Kansas and other states. Apex plans a wind energy generation project on 40,000 acres in Neosho County.
Those gathered Wednesday said wind energy comes at a cost, a cost that counties in Illinois, Wisconsin, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas are absorbing far beyond what the wind energy companies invest and the value of temporary jobs produced, the citizens said.
Decreased property values, and increased taxes by government to compensate for valuation losses and for decommissioning abandoned wind turbines are just a couple of the problems some counties and states are confronting, opponents explained.
As Kansas wind farms are in mostly unpopulated areas, Neosho County residents looked to other states for information on the impact in more populated counties.
While information is readily available on existing wind farms, the group on Wednesday said there are many residents in the proposed footprint of the turbines reporting they didn’t know about the Neosho County wind farm project.
Apex is planning a tour of its Waverly and Elk County wind farms, leaving 100 S. Main St. in Erie at 8 a.m. (Saturday) today, in hopes of alleviating concerns, but residents Wednesday said there is more people should know.
Valuation and sales
Retired appraiser LeRoy Burk presented information from appraisers in Kansas and in other states and counties, speaking to the residential property values being adversely affected by proximity to wind turbines.
For example, in Adams County, Quincy, Illinois, losses in valuation ranged from 25 to 40 percent, and sometimes a total loss of value as measured by the abandonment and demolition of homes within the footprint of industrial-scale wind energy turbine projects, according to Chicago real estate valuation appraiser Michael McCann.
That loss of valuation could impact Neosho County taxing agencies whose budgets are already strained. For Erie USD 101, already operating in the red, it could be a death knell, given the 240 homes and 40,000 acres in the current footprint in Galesburg, Erie and Thayer proposed by Apex. Taxing entities, like cities, the county, the community college and schools, could be forced to raise mill levies to compensate for lost valuation.
Dale Jeffrey said he found a school district in Oklahoma that sold bonds to finance a building project that is now in jeopardy because the wind energy company did not pay in to the county as promised.
Some people think that if it is not at their back door, it does not affect them and they are not concerned, but this project impacts everyone in the county, several at Wednesday’s meeting said. And though Apex is not there yet, they soon could be. Those at the meeting pointed to a county-provided map of the footprint, showing property owners outside the footprint with whom the company has also already signed leases to the east and south for future expansion, potentially impacting more of the county’s future valuation.
Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating wrote a column in the Tulsa World last year saying wind energy was sold to the state as a low-cost way to broaden its energy and economic development program, create jobs and make for a more prosperous future for the state, and he signed off wind industry tax breaks. He said that was a mistake.
“What was promised to cost the state less than $2 million annually when I was in office soared to $113 million for the 2014 tax year and it is expected to cost billions in the future,” Keating wrote.
Burk said he called around Oklahoma about property sales near wind farms and could come up with no sales, except one attempted sale around Kingman, where a man built a log house by a stream and installed a tennis court, investing $4.2 million, before wind turbines were erected two miles away. The highest bid he could after that get was $800,000, so he declined to sell.
Many of those at the meeting said they are concerned that some landowners and the county are looking at promised income for leasing their land and are not considering the impacts on their neighbors’ land and lives.
“If our property values go down here, mill levies are going to go up and everyone else is going to be paying for the loss,” Dustie Elsworth said. Elsworth lives in rural Erie, opposes the wind farm and is running a write-in campaign for District 1 commissioner in Neosho County.
Power companies say the life of wind turbines is about 20 years, but some fall into disrepair after 10. Once wind energy businesses have received federal tax subsidies and leases for a time and expanded wind farms, they move on to build the next wind farm, often leaving the old turbines behind. The landowners and counties may be left to absorb the cost of decommissioning these turbines.
The Valley Morning Star in Texas reported Feb. 18, 2017, that “there are approximately 12,000 turbines operational in the state. Decommissioning these turbines could cost as much as $2.3 billion. Which means landowners and counties in Texas could be on the hook for tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars if officials determine non-functional wind turbines need to be removed. Or if that proves to be too costly, as seems likely, some areas of the state could become post-apocalyptic wastelands steepled with teetering and fallen wind turbines, locked in a rigor mortis of obsolescence.”
Energy Central estimated the cost to dismantle a single wind turbine, ranging in height from 250 to 500 feet high, at $200,000 in 2017. In 10 to 20 years, those costs could grow with inflation. The proposed height of the turbines in Neosho County would be 610 feet and that could potentially increase the dismantling costs. As Neosho County could not afford the costs to decommission each of Apex’s proposed 121 Phase I turbines, persons living in the footprint and nearby concluded that at the end of the turbines’ lives, the turbines will become a visual blight, deteriorating into rusted and broken remains on the Southeast Kansas landscape between houses and croplands.
Burk said he asked the county commission if it was going to have Apex set up an escrow account to cover decommissioning, as a lot of counties have gotten the raw end of the deal going with bonds and have been changing these to escrow accounts, but county commissioners said they thought a bond issued by Apex was sufficient.
Apex sometimes sells the wind farms it builds, according to Apex’s website. The potential sale of Apex Clean Energy has been discussed this year in the business press, so residents are concerned if promises to decommission the turbines would be kept. As well, the people at Wednesday’s meeting vocalized their fear that when the federal tax credit ends in 2020, renewable energy companies like Apex may become insolvent.
Roads in disrepair
During the natural gas boom, the roads in Neosho County suffered from big trucks traveling the roads. Burk said with trucks hauling in all the turbines and concrete, it is going to take an even greater toll on county roads. Martha Hizey said each wind turbine requires around 70 or more truckloads of concrete to fill the 50- to 60-foot pilings needed to stabilize the tall turbines, which Ray Hizey said would be equivalent to more than three grain storage facilities at St. Paul stacked on top of each other. Each one would stand taller than the Washington Monument, which is 555 feet.
Of concern to many is the county’s recent discussions about closing down its rock crushing operation rather than buying a new rock crusher. Buying rock on the open market could increase costs compared to crushing the county’s own rock. If the county sees an increase in road maintenance, these costs could impact the county’s budget, unless the county negotiates this part with Apex.
Burk said damage to roads may not be comparable to road problems the county faced with the gas leases.