Instead of creating regulations for wind energy turbines, planners may just push for an outright ban in the area surrounding the city.
The Parsons Planning Commission on Tuesday informally agreed to have a public hearing on wind energy conversion systems in October. The planners will have a special meeting on Sept. 5, when the hearing date likely will be set. At least two planners are leaning toward a ban on commercial turbines, and the public hearing may center around a recommendation for a ban.
“If we have people throwing tomatoes at us, we’ll know we’re off track,” planner Greg Chalker said.
The planners began discussing the possible regulation of wind energy conversion systems in the extraterritorial area commonly called the 3-mile zone around the city on Tuesday at the request of City Commissioner Tom Shaw.
Shaw is concerned that a company could begin development of a wind farm in Labette County, which has no countywide zoning, and encroach on the city with 600-foot turbines. Apex Wind Energy is working on a project to place 139 such turbines in southwest Neosho County. The city enforces its zoning and building code ordinances within the area surrounding Parsons, roughly a 3-mile radius extending from the city limits except in Neosho County and the Great Plains Industrial Park.
Laura Moore, the city’s community development director and zoning administrator, suggested requiring a special use permit for wind turbines in the 3-mile zone. A special use permit requires a recommendation from the planning commission as well as city commission approval. In an email to Moore, Shaw said he would prefer either a ban on wind turbines in the area or at least a requirement of a 4,000-foot setback from all properties not leased for wind turbines.
Chalker said a ban on turbines in the 3-mile zone makes sense. He’s spoken to people who don’t think a wind energy firm would be interested in erecting turbines here. Chalker asked if any of the planners had heard from anyone supporting turbines in the area, and none had. Most people Chalker had spoken to about the issue opposed turbines in the 3-mile zone, although one person told Chalker turbines would bring new money into the local economy.
“A nice restaurant will do that, too,” Chalker said.
Chalker doesn’t think anyone would complain about a turbine ban, although Planner Lowell Wells said some landowners could profit from the leases. Wells said he was undecided on the issue.
Chalker proposed not allowing turbines over a certain height. He doesn’t want to prohibit people from powering their own homes with much smaller, personal wind turbines. Planner Ron Holsteen said the city could just incorporate a ban on commercial turbines. Chalker thinks the city may want to use language concerning commercial turbines and height restrictions.
“I don’t think we want to leave any loopholes to jump through or go around,” Chalker said.
It’s unlikely given wind speed and elevation in the area that wind energy companies would want to place turbines shorter than 500 or 600 feet here.
Holsteen later said the state defines commercial power systems by their output, so the city could limit turbines to those with a maximum output falling below that threshold.
Looking at a directory of homes in the 3-mile zone that Moore gave to the planners, Holsteen agreed that it’s unlikely wind turbines would be placed in the area because of its comparatively high population density. Wells said even with a 2,500-foot setback from nonparticipating residences it would be difficult to place any turbines in the 3-mile zone.
The city’s zoning book already addresses wind turbines, although only briefly, as Moore pointed out Tuesday. The city’s zoning ordinance states no wind energy conversion systems are permitted in the city, however systems are permitted outside the city with setbacks from all property lines measuring at least twice the height of such a system. Presumably that would mean 1,200-foot setbacks would be needed under the current code, unless the height of the blade above the tower is counted.
Three people attended the planning commission meeting to speak about turbine regulations.
Mel Hass of rural Oswego spoke to the commission about his experience living in the footprint of a wind farm in Illinois before he moved in 2018.
Hass said he has been following the wind farm issue for 15 years, and although he realizes the need for alternative energy, there needs to be guidelines to protect the safety and well being of people living near turbines.
Hass helped develop a special use permit in his Illinois county that required a 1,400-foot setback from nonparticipating homes. He also participated in helping create a zoning ordinance. The county later found it was inadequate and changed the setback to 3,000 feet from property lines after turbines were erected.
Hass said there were five turbines located within 3,400 feet of his house, with the closest one at about 2,300 feet. He said turbines make much more noise than wind energy companies will admit. The noise isn’t as pronounced during the day because there isn’t as much electricity being generated until nighttime. That’s when the “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh” sound of the turbines can be heard.
“It just drives you nuts,” Hass said.
A random pattern of turbines is most beneficial for those living among them, but companies can save money by placing them in a linear fashion, which creates more noise for neighbors, Hass said.
“It is nasty. It is nasty, and you just aren’t going to get any sleep,” he said.
Hass said he also experienced antenna interference, and his neighbors even had interference in satellite signals used for TV.
The turbines also caused reflections on windows, rain puddles and his car. Inside, he could see the blades reflected on his TV, glass cases and the glass on picture frames.
“It didn’t make for a happy camper with me,” Hass said.
Shadow flicker also bothered him under certain weather conditions, although only for about five minutes in the morning when he was trying to sleep late after he had retired. Once it awakened him, he couldn’t get back to sleep.
Hass said he had to sell his property for less than expected after the windmills were installed and it took longer to sell. Property valuation loss studies don’t take into account length on the market or population density, he said.
“The only advice you’re going to get from me is that they don’t belong in populated areas,” Hass said.
Tammie Oas of Parsons said she is really concerned about the possibility of turbines being placed close to town. She said the city needs to get ahead of the issue.
“It’s easier to get ahead than play catch up,” Dave Oas said.
In another matter Tuesday the planning commission approved Hai Do’s proposed solutions to issues involving the storage units he plans to build next to Parsons Foursquare Church, 98 Main.
The planners had approved a special use permit to allow the construction, but Do had to meet some conditions such as creating screening and building a retaining wall between the units and the church as well as fixing a washout problem at his driveway.
Last month, the planners rejected Do’s proposed solutions. He had said no screening was needed. Now he proposes planting cedar trees for screening, which the planners approved.
The recommendation to allow the special use permit now will go to the city commission.