OSWEGO — A resolution laying out proposed points to be included in an agreement with RWE Renewables wind energy company was brought to the table by Labette County Commissioner Cole Proehl on Friday and approved in a 2-1 vote.
The matter was not included on the agenda for the end-of-month meeting of the commission and was brought up after all other business had been conducted.
Proehl said he felt “the time for input and discussion and civil discussion has come and gone,” adding he believes it is time to move ahead as too much time and energy are being expended. Having gone over wind farm agreements with counties across the state, and following input from citizens, Proehl said he created the resolution reflecting what he believes the county needs to do, as sitting and waiting is not helping anybody.
“You have to remain within reason. You have to provide reasonable restrictions. That’s all we can do,” Proehl said.
He said what he was putting forward were the strictest terms in the state that have passed without a county being sued.
Main points of his resolution are:
— Setbacks would be 1.1 times the height of a turbine, or 500 feet from public roads and non-participating property lines, 1,600 feet from non-participating residences, follow federal guidelines for water and wildlife habitat, 1 mile from incorporated towns within Labette County.
— RWE would be required to pay cash or provide surety bond of $9.7 million for future decommissioning of turbines.
— Payments in lieu of taxes would total $7,500 to $9,000 per megawatt with annual adjustments for inflation of 2% and 10% increase in years six, eight and 10. An initial payment of $1.5 million would be given to Labette County at the project commencement.
— A voluntary payment of $50,000 to joint rural fire departments of Labette County.
— Voluntary payment of $50,000 to the Labette County Sheriff Department and $50,000 to 911 dispatch.
— A road use agreement for all use of roads monitored by Labette County personnel.
— All legal, surveying, consultation, construction and repair costs are to be paid by RWE.
— No lights on towers other than those that are the minimum Federal Aviation Administration requirements, and no high-intensity strobe or white lights shall be permitted at night, unless an infrared heating device is used to protect wind-monitoring equipment.
“This is not set in stone, but with these guidelines we need to move forward,” Proehl said. “If we can’t get a majority of it, we walk away.”
Other matters such as the number of hours of light flicker and sound levels would be negotiated with the company.
Commissioner Lonie Addis said he thought they were waiting for RWE to come forward with a proposed road use agreement as a stepping-off point, and suddenly Proehl is coming forward with a proposal he developed on his own.
Proehl said there have been a great many things that have not been discussed that he doesn’t agree with, and there are things that have been discussed and agreed upon and not followed.
“The situation has been turned from civil discussion to accusation, speculation and name calling and a circus here, and I’m ready. I’m not going to be a part of that,” Proehl said.
Addis said he disagreed that it was a circus, but rather people expressing their opinions, which they have a right to do as residents of the county.
Proehl said if they try to make the agreement with RWE too restrictive, the company will sue the county.
“There is a fine line between protecting landowners’ rights and the rest of the citizens,” Proehl said, and it is basically up to the commission to try to mitigate the negative benefits while garnering the best economic benefits and protecting landowner rights.
“What are the other options?” Proehl asked.
Proehl said around 25,000 acres in the county have already been leased to RWE. He said the land owners’ rights should be protected as well as the rest of the county. Asked by the Sun how many people that amount of acreage represented as far as landowners, Proehl said he did not know. At last count, around 21 leases had been signed. Two are among the largest land holders in the county.
Addis said as commissioners they still hold the right to say no.
“They can do all they want, but that is our right as governmental representatives,” Addis said.
Commissioner Brian Kinzie asked if the resolution was fluid, and Proehl said it has to be.
“This is just making it so we can get going and address the issues at hand to see if this is going to be a feasible agreement between the county and RWE?” Kinzie asked Proehl.
“Right,” Proehl said, noting road use agreements and other matters are yet to be negotiated whenever RWE does come forward to talk about the agreements.
Addis became somewhat agitated, stating both Proehl and Kinzie had said they had not made a decision on the wind farm development at the beginning of the week, and now Proehl was taking a stance saying he supports wind energy development in Labette County.
“This is what I would like. Yes,” Proehl said.
Addis said it is strange that suddenly a resolution is brought forward and both of them voted to approve it on the same day. He asked the two commissioners if they had discussed the matter with each other outside the commission meetings. Both emphatically denied such happening.
“I doubt that,” Addis said.
Proehl gave his reasons, and Kinzie said he simply supports those reasons.
“We want to get the ball rolling to see what we’re going to do,” Kinzie said. “How many times have we had to tell people every week we really don’t know where we are at?”
“I’m not going to sit here and argue this for the next eight months,” Proehl said.
“I just wish this had been on the agenda, Commissioner,” Addis said. “Really. I think it is a slap in the face to everyone who goes to the polls and votes. I don’t care if your name is Proehl.”
Proehl is the son of State Rep. Richard Proehl. Proehl said his name has nothing to do with the matter, adding because Addis is not getting his way he wants to change the rules.
“You said you were not going to allow this to become a circus. You did not allow this to become a circus. You created the circus,” Proehl said.
Addis said he felt the questions about ethics asked by Trace Goodwin at a Monday meeting were pertinent, but Proehl said he does not answer to a citizen of Neosho County, regardless of if he has roots here or plans to move here as Goodwin stated.
Addis accused Proehl and Kinzie of Kansas Open Meetings Act violations, but Kinzie denied knowing anything about the resolution before it was brought forward Friday.
“I’m accepting the resolution because I’m like Cole Proehl; I want to move forward,” Kinzie said.
County Counselor Brian Johnson said he had not received a call back from RWE about meeting with the commission. He heard from the company’s legal team that RWE has to put a package together. Johnson said he had heard RWE was still in the phase of getting permits and other related tasks. Without that, he said, it is unknown what is negotiable.
Kinzie asked Johnson to tell RWE the commission wants to move forward to resolve the situation.
“We would like to be able to report to the public what’s happening,” Kinzie said.
“What I will do, Mr. Proehl, is I will call you a coward,” Addis said. “The right thing to do would have been to put this on the agenda. It was a cowardly thing not to have it on the agenda because you know what would have happened. You were afraid to face the people of this county.”
“I have no problem facing the people. I figured everyone would be here. That is why I made extra copies,” Proehl said, though he only handed one to a Sun reporter, and other audience members had to get copies across the hall.
“It is one of the most cowardly acts I’ve seen,” Addis said.
“Give me a break,” Proehl replied, adding that those who have something to say will still call him. He said he has been preparing the information for six months and does not want to continue to drag things out, hearing the same things over and over.
“You are losing control of this place, so you want to call names and make accusations and change the rules. That’s fine,” Proehl said.
“Mister, it’s not just me,” Addis said. “I’d have had a lot more respect for you if you had put this on the agenda and then we would have had this discussion in front of the people, pro or con.”
“So you want to allow the people that continue to call us all kinds of names and drag my family into this?” Kinzie asked.
“Drag my family into it?” Proehl said. “What do you want, a public hearing on it? How many public meetings have we had? If you don’t get your way, then you don’t like it.”
“It’s not just my way,” Addis said. “But I tell you if you look in the mirror you’re going to see a coward.”
“Opinions vary,” Proehl said.
“You incite riots and everything else,” Kinzie said to Addis.
“Maybe in a situation like this, it needs someone to say something,” Addis said.
The arguing continued among the commissioners for a few minutes.
Proehl said he has listened to everyone, and asked, “What is more discussion going to do?”
Addis asked Proehl what topic has been more important in the county in the last six months.
Proehl said, “Exactly,” so they need to put it to bed or move forward.
“I don’t care if there is 20 people here or 200. They are going to know,” Proehl said. “I don’t care. It’s not like I can keep it a secret.”
Proehl told Addis to quit making baseless accusations and noted again he had presented “the most strict proposal based on the most strict guidelines in Kansas” for the people of Labette County.
Commissioners were asked if they had done any investigation into what counties were facing with wind farms not wanting to pay taxes after the tax abatement ended.
Kinzie said the 10-year tax abatements in Kansas will not end until 2025. Before that, they were lifelong abatements, so no one knows. Asked if they had looked elsewhere, in other states, to find such answers, commissioners said they had not.
Addis said the commission is really at the mercy of the Kansas Legislature because when the 10 years of abatement are up, the Legislator can change things. Kinzie said they do not know if the turbines will be state assessed or county assessed then, adding it would depend on if the utility is local or the energy is going on the national grid.
Proehl said he had read a couple of Kansas counties had negotiated, or were trying to negotiate, 20 and 30 year payment in lieu of taxes agreements instead of trying to put the properties on the tax rolls at depreciated rates. He could not recall the those counties off the top of his head.
“In our agreements, that is something we’re going to have to address,” Kinzie said. “If it doesn’t go on the tax roll, we have a right to say what is going to happen in 10 years.” He added the transmission lines under the ground should be taxed, too.
Decommissioning is another aspect of the negotiations that Addis said is huge. He found the $9.7 million laughable, being too low.
Asked about how the proposed payments in lieu of taxes were laid out regarding payments based on megawatts, Proehl explained that as an example, Neosho County had negotiated for $3,300 per potential megawatt capacity for each turbine. For 139 turbines, that equated to $1 million a year for 10 years. Basically, Proehl said, Labette County would get about the same for half the number of turbines.
Mel Haas, who moved to Labette County to escape a wind farm and served on the wind energy advisory committee, expressed his disappointment in the commissioners saying they were going to visit the Neosho Ridge Wind and Prairie Queen Wind farms but then not doing so. He said it was important, especially when it comes to deciding setbacks.
“I think if you had, you would realize these setbacks are not going to protect non-participating landowners,” Haas said.
Kinzie said the commissioners still plan to visit Neosho Ridge Wind, and that is why he asked Proehl if the resolution was fluid.
Proehl said he looked at every wind farm agreement in the state. He said the biggest setback in the state is 2,500 feet in Pratt, but other areas have tried to get that distancing and it has been immediately struck down, at even 2,000 feet. He said 1,600 is the absolute maximum.
Haas said he is disappointed the resolution came through before the visit and that they didn’t set the bar higher. He continues to seek greater setbacks because of the aerodynamic noise and acoustics based on research.
Addis reiterated Proehl’s comment the resolution is a working document and the setback could still be increased in agreement negotiations.
Proehl claimed Haas’ setbacks were about five times the height of the turbines, or about 3,600 feet, and were designed solely to kill any wind farm project. Haas denied the accusation.
Proehl said it was because it would not allow any turbines to be located within a square mile of non-participating property.
“How does that not infringe on the rights of the land owner? Let’s call it what it is. There’s got to be a balance, and you’re not being flexible at all,” Proehl said.
Haas said even 2,400 feet didn’t work to eliminate the sound issues at the wind farm that surrounded his former home.
Proehl said he has been around the wind turbines. He said because it is complex to include in a rough guideline, he did not include a limit on shadow flicker or decibels.
“We just can’t argue about this for the next year,” Proehl said.
“I think everyone would agree, if you can stop any potential negative effects like shadow flicker, like sound, at participating property lies, nobody would have a problem,” Dave Oas said. “The problem is, they don’t stop at those property lines.”