OSWEGO — Area residents with questions and some with statements of opposition to the proposed development of an industrial wind farm were present at the Labette County Commission’s Wednesday meeting in Oswego.
RWE is exploring the development of a wind farm that would have an estimated 50 to 75 turbines that could be 500 feet tall at the tip of the blade, although turbine numbers, exact heights and placement will be determined by the collection of wind and weather information. The proposed footprint runs south of 19000 Road, north of 8000 Road, west of Meade Road and east of Douglas Road, though contracts have been signed for property outside that area.
Wayne Bozman of rural Edna said many people know the disadvantages of having a wind farm next to their homes, but he asked commissioners to tell them the advantages.
Commissioner Brian Kinzie said they don’t know yet, while commissioner Cole Proehl stated frankly, “The potential is an influx of cash to the county general fund. It’s called payment in lieu of taxes.”
The amount of that payment would be negotiated by the county commission with the wind company to cover the span of a 10-year period. After that, taxes would be assessed, unless some other agreement was reached.
“Where do you start negotiating?” someone asked.
“I’ve studied every agreement with every county that’s had a wind farm in the state of Kansas. Usually they are based on per kilowatt produced. That’s where the payment, the negotiations start,” Proehl said.
All residents in the county benefit, Proehl said, by money becoming available for things such as bridge repairs and money for schools.
“What about the residents who live under them?” Helen Erickson asked.
“That’s when you go back to you try to mitigate the impact on the citizens’ part as much as you can,” Proehl said. “If it’s going to be beneficial to the majority of the county … if it’s a positive to 19,600 people in the county financially, the taxes, the benefits, what it can do, what it can bring in, jobs, roads, schools, we benefit there. If there are 200 negatively impacted, I know it is important. I want to mitigate those impacts as much as we can and if it doesn’t work and the impact is too great, if the benefits to the rest of the county is too small, it doesn’t work.”
Bozman noted that everything depends on how the county negotiates the contracts, and other things the county has no control over. For example, while Apex Energy suggested it be put in the Neosho Ridge Wind contract a certain percentage of money go to schools in Neosho County, the Neosho County Commission did not agree to do so. Regarding jobs created, there were only five to seven permanent jobs created, and Neosho County residents did not fill those jobs. They were filled by existing wind turbine technicians living elsewhere near Neosho County.
Asked how long the county would spend negotiating with RWE and a contract signing, Proehl said, “I look at it as though it is going to be a six to eight month process.”
During the negotiations, Proehl said he doesn’t mind sharing what the county and RWE are agreeing on and not and those topics being made public.
“The devil is always in the details,” county resident Chuck Johnson said. “I’m just wondering, after the negotiations, am I going to be able to come up here and say, ‘I think this is too close to the home, or to the property lines,’ or is that going to be already done. Are we going to have a say after you’ve negotiated?”
County Counselor Brian Johnson informed all those present that negotiations are private and will only become public once the document is signed.
“That’s standard procedure,” Johnson said.
“Oh my God,” Commissioner Lonie Addis said. “That’s not American.”
Addis questioned if the negotiations have to be kept quiet.
“They don’t have to be kept quiet, but that is standard operating procedure,” Johnson said.
“Well that standard operating procedure needs to go out the damn door,” Addis said. “Sorry.”
Proehl tried to reassure those present that the commission would be as transparent as possible.
Someone asked if residents could be allowed to vote on the wind turbines and were informed they could not because the time has passed for it to be put on a ballot and it would be considered a poll vote, which is not allowed.
What was not explained by commissioners is residents and the commission not actually having the ability to vote to approve or disapprove of the wind farm locating in Labette County. Contracts are private between landowners and a wind farm development company. The only votes the Labette County Commission has is the amount of payment in lieu of taxes, the distance of the turbines from homes and property lines to ensure the health and safety of their constituents they are charged with protecting as the board of county health, road use agreements, decommissioning funds and other contractual aspects. If reasonable terms cannot be reached on those topics, then the contractual agreement would not be reached, and the wind farm would not be able to locate here. If the wind farm developer determines the county purposefully set unreasonable terms, it could sue. The county commission is entitled to set reasonable terms to protect its residents from issues such as sound, infrasound, shadow flicker, valuation and more that can impact their health, safety and property.
“We need to think about this,” Proehl said. “If we don’t do this, how long before they are lined up against the Oklahoma border on the south side and in Montgomery County and Crawford (County) and we’ve already seen Neosho, and we’re on the inside and we’re surrounded and we get none of the benefits. We’ll still see them.”
For the people present, that is not the same as living under them.
Addis said once in a county, wind farm developers frequently create more than one area. They will start with the existing area, and then often expand to two, three and sometimes four other areas within the same county. The only place that is safe from turbines is the city of Parsons, which passed a zoning ordinance for no wind turbines within 3 miles of the city limits.
“So anyone in Labette County that thinks that won’t happen to them or somebody south of 6,000 (Road), they better wake up because it could,” Addis said. “So you’re not talking about just a few people that have got Edna address or Coffeyville addresses. You’re talking about the county.”
A few of those present questioned Proehl as to how, while he is talking about financial benefits, a cost could be put on the scenic beauty people move to the country for, the sunrises and sunsets, being interrupted by 500 to 600 foot spinning turbines, noise, shadow flicker and other intrusions on the life they know and love.
“As everybody knows, Labette County is kind of an economically disadvantaged county. There’s not a lot of jobs,” Richard Erickson said. “The people that live here live here for a reason. What comes to mind is, ‘I love the land,’ ‘I love the view,’ whatever. The benefits that you are saying to the county is money for the bridges, money for the roads, money for schools, this and that. When you do a balance sheet, you have your profit and loss .. you’re talking this money would be the positive side. How do you put a dollar figure on the negative side of what we’d be losing in what we love about this area that keeps us here? How do you put a dollar value on that. Where’s the balance on that sheet at? These wind turbines at 600 feet are twice the height of our average cell tower. That’s massive monument all of the sudden that is in your neighborhood in your community, in your area that you can’t miss when you look out there. Where is the dollar value in having to look at that to the gain financially. We are sitting in God given beauty here. Where’s the dollar value in taking that beauty away. How do you balance that with the gains?”
“It’s in the due process, the negotiation,” Kinzie said. “Like Commissioner Proehl said, it’s got to be a lucrative agreement or I don’t think any one of us will sign.”
Esther Grassl asked how do you put a value on God’s beauty.
“It’s kind of selfish in my opinion,” Grassl said.
Helen Erickson said they live 31.7 miles from the turbines in Neosho County and can still see the blinking lights. For some present, having those lights in their backyard is unimaginable, and for some, it is a medical issue.
In regard to the blinking lights, Proehl said he checked in with RWE and the Federal Aviation Administration to learn more about lights that are activated by approaching planes, so they are not blinking continuously.
“It’s an FAA ultimate decision. There’s costs involved. They are not going to offer. It’s something we can ask. If we don’t ask, we’re not going to get it. I guarantee that,” Proehl said.
Mel Hass of rural Oswego used to live where a wind farm was developed and he warned commissioners about the sound. He encouraged them to go to Neosho County to places where people are complaining about the noise there, and hear how bad it is, morning and night, before committing to allow such to happen in Labette County, where he moved to get away from the turbines.
“I think it is much larger and much bigger than three people making a decision,” one man said, stating he has heard the opinions of so many Labette County citizens who are in opposition to the wind farm.
Mention was again made regarding Commissioner Kinzie contacting RWE on his own and Kinzie’s son being offered a contract by RWE, “creating a lot of dirty water around him,” as one man put it, saying it diminishes confidence of the people.
Kinzie took the comments to mean they were insinuating some illegality on his part, and accusing him of racketeering, to which he responded he has done nothing illegal and neither has his son. Addis said he has looked into the matter and there is nothing illegal or unethical in Kinzie being related to someone considering signing a contract with the wind farm. Bozman said they know Kinzie has done nothing illegal and that was not what they were stating. They are concerned about possible bias when it is time for Kinzie to vote on contracts with RWE.
Residents are really wondering how the commissioners determining economic benefit “for all,” as Proehl stated through a benefit to the county, is going to come into play against a large majority of those most impacted not wanting the turbines here.
“Do all Labette County residents have rights, or is it just a few?” Dana Eggers asked. “I’m hoping we’re all equal. …We need to be smart about it. I think we do need economic development, but I don’t think wind turbines is it. We need more companies like Old Dominion, Tank Connection, Power Flame, State Hospital (Parsons State Hospital and Training Center). These companies create long-term jobs that stay here, not just the jobs that are going to be here for a couple of years … and then they are gone, and we’re left with monsters, basically.
“And I believe letting wind turbines into the area will decrease population. I honestly don’t know of anybody that says, ‘Oh wow, let’s move to an area that has wind turbines.’ … I’m asking you to be fair. I’m asking you to listen to us. I’m asking you to use common sense and I’m also asking you not to believe everything RWE is telling you.”