ANGOLA — A community meeting in Angola on Tuesday night brought forward a number of questions and concerns from landowners in or near the proposed footprint of a wind farm.
The meeting took place in the former Angola school building.
RWE is exploring the development of a wind farm that would have 50 to 75 turbines generating between 200 and 250 megawatts of power. The turbines could be 500 feet tall at the tip of the blade, according to RWE, although that height and the number of turbines were in question by some at Tuesday’s meeting. RWE is collecting wind and weather information and will use this data to help determine turbine location, height and the number of turbines, an RWE representative has said.
The proposed footprint runs south of 19000 Road, north of 8000 Road, west of Meade Road and east of Douglas Road.
Wayne Bozman of rural Edna moderated Tuesday’s meeting. Labette County Commissioners Lonie Addis and Brian Kinzie attended. Commissioner Cole Proehl said Monday he had a conflict and would not be able to attend.
Kinzie took the microphone briefly Tuesday because some of the attendees wanted to ask commissioners questions. Addis has said he’s against the wind farm development. Kinzie and Proehl have said they want to study and complete their due diligence before taking the next steps.
Kinzie said no decisions have been made, no matter what some people are saying.
A woman asked Kinzie his take on Senate Bill 279. This bill as drafted would prohibit construction of a wind turbine facility until the developer enters into an agreement with a landowner that demonstrates that the developer has complied with the requirements in the bill. The bill establishes minimum setback distances for wind turbines and requires county commissioners to approve an application for construction of the facility. Generally, setbacks would be 7,920 feet from a residential property or public buildings, 15,840 feet from an airport or federal wildlife refuge or public park or hunting area and 5,280 feet from any property line of a non-participating property owner. A Senate committee heard testimony for and against the bill Monday and Tuesday.
Kinzie said he’s still undecided about the bill.
A man asked what commissioners could do about the issue, especially when contracts have been signed and money paid out. Bozman said commissioners could vote against it, which should stop the development.
Kinzie said he attended Tuesday’s meeting to listen. Another man said the county has a majority of Republican voters. Shouldn’t commissioners vote as the public wants, the man asked?
“I’m not saying I won’t,” Kinzie said, adding that he wanted to listen and asked those at the meeting to grant him the courtesy of doing that.
Curtis Johnston of rural Edna said he owns land north of Edna and that people want answers. He said he respected Commissioners Addis and Kinzie for showing up, a comment that generated applause. Johnston asked if his neighbors are leasing with RWE, should he do so as well? He mentioned the gag clause in the contracts that does not allow landowners who lease to talk about their leases. He wanted to be able to ask his neighbors if they were going to have wind turbines installed next to his land.
“I think that’s just an honest question to ask, an honest question to answer,” Johnston said.
He was also concerned about how turbines would impact GPS systems on tractors and the health of families living in the footprint.
Johnston asked commissioners if they or their family members had been offered compensation of any form from RWE or any party involved in the development. Kinzie and Addis both said no. Kinzie and his wife, Jo, acknowledged their son has paperwork from RWE but has not signed anything.
Johnston then asked why he didn’t have paperwork. He’s heard from other landowners in the proposed footprint and they haven’t received paperwork either.
Shirley Estrada, who earlier shared her experiences with the Neosho Ridge Wind project and Apex Clean Energy, the project developer, said not every landowner in the footprint in Neosho County was offered a contract. She didn’t know how the developer chose landowners for contracts. But she said the footprint expanded greatly after initial information came out about it, and that could happen in Labette County. She added that not everyone who leased land in Neosho County received a turbine on their land.
“The best thing that you all can do is talk to your neighbors,” Estrada said.
She said a sample lease she read in Neosho County goes for 30 years with options for two more 10-year periods. “Think of the ramifications of that for generations to come.”
Ronald Neidigh asked commissioners if the county would extend benefits to RWE if it chooses to develop the wind farm. Addis said no.
Neidigh asked if the wind company would hire local workers to install the towers, blades or perform the other work.
Bryan Coover of rural Galesburg, who also shared his experiences with Neosho Ridge, said much of the construction is highly specialized. The concrete work has specialized forms and much rebar. The concrete is poured in a 15-foot-deep hole that’s 160 feet across. Developers have people who specialize in this work and they come from all over. Apex has five full-time employees, but the Apex base will be in Asbury, Missouri.
Coover also disputed RWE’s declaration that there would only be 50 to 75 turbines that are 500 feet tall. Coover said the turbines are more likely to be 600 feet tall and possibly 675 feet. The quality of the wind decreases between Neosho and the proposed footprint in Labette County, based on maps he’s seen of wind quality.
“In order to get these things to turn, you’ve got to make them sit on taller towers and you have to have longer blades. So these things are going to get bigger,” Coover said.
He used mathematics to show that the Labette County wind farm would need about 115 turbines to produce up to 250 megawatts of power. Each turbine produces 2.2 megawatts. To produce 250 megawatts would take 114 turbines, based on that formula. He added that the transformer the developer installs and the connections to the electrical grid cost about $35 million and economies of scale don’t make sense with a smaller wind farm for that investment, Coover said.
Tammie Carlson-Oas said her goal is not to stop the wind development. She would like commissioners to consider the health of participants and non-participants. What is required to keep them healthy? How far should turbines be set back from homes and property lines? What rules should be in place to protect citizens from shadow flicker? What parts of SB279 can commissioners implement to ensure participants and non-participants’ rights are protected?
Coover said a wind farm in the Smoky Hills of Kansas was installed about 11 years ago. Some gear boxes on those turbines started to fail in 2020. The new turbines being installed in their place are 100 feet taller. Germany has 800-foot turbines and companies are testing 1,000-foot turbines supported by a system of guy wires, he said.
Safety is a concern around turbines, Coover said. They can throw ice. Houses could be targets if closer than the 3,000 feet that ice can travel from blades. Turbines are noisy. Coover reported he has sleep disturbances because of the low-frequency sound from the turbines 3,000 feet from his home. Turbine setbacks of a mile and a half from homes could mitigate the sound, he said. He said other areas of the state have open spaces with no homes for 5 miles, a better spot for turbines than Labette and Neosho counties, which have heavier population densities.
Mel Hass of rural Oswego asked if Apex would mitigate loss of TV and cellphone reception in the footprint. Coover said Apex said it would increase the number of towers in the Galesburg area served by an internet service provider to improve reception. Reception of TV and cellphone signals in the footprint is impacted, Coover and Hass said. Coover noted that the electrical transmission line for Apex that parallels Jackson Road impacts cell coverage for those traveling near it.
Hass asked Commissioner Kinzie if RWE would mitigate for the loss of these services in the footprint. Kinzie said he’s called RWE and asked for a representative to come for an informational meeting. He’s waiting to hear back.
One woman asked about the county commission discussion process about the development. Kinzie indicated at a county commission meeting that Addis should not be involved with discussions with RWE because he’s already made up his mind against the development and may not have an open mind for the discussion. Addis said Tuesday he wanted the discussion to take place with all three commissioners and not have one commissioner talking with RWE alone.
A man who lives in northwest Edna said if he’s going to be losing his skyline view to the turbines, what will he get out of it besides the possibility of health impacts. He wondered if any of the electricity generated would benefit the community. Someone gets paid to lease their land and he loses the horizon.
Dave Oas said his research shows that electricity whether it’s generated by solar, wind or coal is not tagged. It just enters the grid. Kansas started a program for carbon credits, or carbon offsetting. If a customer wants to say all electricity used is wind generated, they can request that designation from the utility but it will cost the customer more money. He said the state fair has such a designation but there are not turbines on the grounds of the fair.
“It’s such an industry of smoke and mirrors. I don’t want to condemn it. I too believe that we have to be good stewards of this land, but we have to be smart good stewards of this land,” Dave Oas said. He said he doesn’t see wind or solar energy as the answer to being good stewards because the process to convert those to electricity is expensive and inefficient.
Another question related to the flashing red lights seen for miles from the turbines in Neosho County. There is technology that would keep those lights from flashing until an aircraft is near them. This motion-sensing technology would have cost $1.2 million to install on the 139 turbines in Neosho County, according to Neosho County Commissioner Paul Westhoff, who attended Tuesday’s meeting. But Apex did not add this.
Tax exemptions for wind turbines were also discussed. Turbines built years ago have a lifetime tax exemption in Kansas. The Legislature changed that about five or six years ago and turbines built since then only have a tax exemption for 10 years. Coover thinks renewable energy projects will never pay taxes in Kansas. But counties have an option to get payments in lieu of taxes for that 10-year period.
Zoning was also mentioned. Dave Oas said commissioners don’t like zoning regulations, which could place restrictions on wind developments, but wind developers still must go through the county for road use agreements. Certain roads must be rebuilt and changed to accommodate the large machinery used to build out the site and erect the wind turbines. Oas suggested approval of that agreement could hinge on setbacks, lighting, flyway protections and other restrictions from the county commission.
Another rural Edna man said his neighbor was waiting for his second year lease check from RWE. He said this development has been in the works for two years and larger landowners have already signed up. He was concerned because his smaller acreage is between landowners who have agreed to leases.
A recent Parsons Sun check at the Labette County Register of Deeds Office showed more than 15,000 acres have been leased in Labette County. Other agreements may not have been filed yet.
One county resident, who did not give her full name, said she does not want wind turbines. She encouraged Kinzie to look around the room.
“You represent us in this community. You’re here to protect us. And nothing has been positive about (wind development),” she said. “You are inviting Satan to come into our community it sounds like to me.”
She acknowledged that Kinzie is in a tight spot, as are the other two commissioners. She hoped that Kinzie’s decision on whether to support the wind development is not influenced by the paperwork his son holds.