OSWEGO — Labette County commissioners on Monday heard another request for a moratorium on wind farm development to allow further study.
Commissioners will take up the request next week but two commissioners didn’t appear to support it. So far, several requests for a moratorium on wind development have failed. Commissioners Brian Kinzie and Cole Proehl both have voted no while Commissioner Lonie Addis voted yes on the requests.
Josh Ghering, who lives in Kinzie’s commission district but outside of the proposed footprint of a wind development being considered by RWE Renewables, shared his concerns with wind development in Labette County based in part on what’s going on in Neosho County.
Commissioners in Neosho County are dealing with nearly $5 million in road damage caused by Apex Clean Energy that the developer has not repaired under an agreement with the county to use its roads for wind turbine construction. Engineers surveyed road conditions after Neosho Ridge Wind construction and found the damage. Neosho County road crews fixed some of the more egregious issues and will bill Apex for the work.
Ghering doesn’t want this to happen in Labette County if RWE is allowed to develop the proposed 50 to 75 turbine wind project between 19000 and 8000 roads and between Douglas and Meade roads. He wants more research and more transparency on the project. He thinks tapping the brakes on the process would give time to find answers before RWE can break ground.
He also wanted commissioners to check into allowing citizens a ballot vote on the wind farm issue, something previously discussed and that would take special legislative permission. Ghering said a public vote on allowing a wind farm in the county would take the pressure off the commission and place the power in the hands of the people they represent.
Ghering also said that the wind development could increase the cost of electricity. Because an electric company would pass along to its customers the cost of connecting the wind project to transmission lines, which has happened elsewhere, he said.
Proehl asked Ghering to send him that information.
Ghering said his point is he is against the wind development and he would like his commissioner, Kinzie, to vote no on the wind development.
Addis said he would put the moratorium on Monday’s agenda. Proehl said moratoriums are not enforceable.
Kinzie said RWE has said it would be 2023 before any dirt is moved.
“There’s a lot in the negotiations that goes on in that time,” Kinzie said. He said RWE hasn’t even completed studies to determine if it’s feasible to build the turbines in Labette County. He added that negotiations with RWE have not started.
Ghering repeated that he would like for the public to vote on the issue.
Kinzie said the public voted in November, which is when he was elected. Kinzie was the only candidate on the ballot for the 2nd District seat. One woman said people didn’t vote on the wind farm issue.
“They most certainly did. And he’s got the floor not you. I’m just asking Josh. Do people not take it serious when they go vote for a commissioner? Is that what you’re saying?” Kinzie said.
He later said he let his opinion known on the wind development at the February 2020 meeting when RWE’s representative met with the county’s wind advisory committee. Since his election and his swearing in as a commissioner, Kinzie has been careful to say that he’s not for the wind development and he’s not against it. He has said he was studying the matter to see how it would benefit the county before making a decision.
Ghering said he wouldn’t have voted for Kinzie had he known his position on wind development.
Kinzie said no one ever asked him his opinion on the matter.
County Counselor Brian Johnson reminded those attending Monday’s meeting that they were not asking a wind turbine question. They were asking a zoning question.
“Because that’s what it comes down to,” Johnson said.
Ghering asked if the county could impose height restrictions on turbines.
Johnson said only if the county creates zoning. And Labette County has a long history of being against zoning.
“When people hear the question do I want wind farms or not? There may be one answer. But when they hear they have to enact zoning to do it I think you might get a different answer,” Johnson said. You cannot have one without the other, he said.
Proehl said there are lawsuits going on now in Kansas related to votes on wind farms. He said litigation is costly.
Addis then opened up the floor to other questions.
Ed Raschen from Edna asked to speak. Kinzie pointed out that Raschen was a party to a lawsuit against the commission and against him. Raschen and others filed the suit in Labette County District Court wanting the commission to comply with the Kansas Open Meetings Act. The suit also asks commissioners to announce in advance the topics and resolutions up for discussion at meetings. The suit also asks Kinzie to stop interfering in the recall effort against him. The lawsuit is pending.
Wayne Bozman asked what difference the lawsuit makes. Bozman is party to the lawsuit as well. Kinzie said Raschen’s attorney would have to contact Johnson.
Johnson said his advice was that commissioners not allow any party to the lawsuit to speak. The person with the question should ask his attorney to contact Johnson to discuss the question.
Addis apologized but told Raschen the commission could not take a question from someone suing the county.
Helen Erickson wanted to ask a question, but Kinzie thought she was named as a plaintiff in one of the suits against the county and him. So she was not allowed after some searching through legal filings.
In the hallway after the meeting, Raschen, who serves in the Kansas Army National Guard, was upset with Addis for not allowing him to speak at a public meeting.
“There’s freedoms that I defended in this country that were violated in there today,” Raschen told Addis. He said he and Addis serve the same flag; Addis served in the Marines. “How dare you let that happen. You allowed that to happen.”
Addis apologized and said he was “totally at fault.” Addis said he would allow Raschen to ask questions at Monday’s meeting.