Kansans seek legislative protections from wind turbines

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They talked about sleepless nights.

They complained about falling property values

They voiced worry about losing property rights.

And they were exasperated with annoying shadow flickers.

Kansas residents turned out Monday seeking protections from the mushrooming number of turbines – about 3,600 in all – stemming from the growing Kansas wind industry.

They are supporting legislation that critics say could severely restrict — if not kill — an industry that has invested billions of dollars into Kansas.

It was the first of two days of hearings before the Senate Utilities Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Thompson.

The Shawnee Republican is accused of having a bias against renewable energy sources and doesn’t believe that human activity contributes to global warming.

Out-of-state wind interests spent more than $100,000 in a failed attempt to beat him in last year’s general election against an environmental advocate.

Thompson’s bill establishes new setback standards, including keeping turbines at least a mile away from the nearest property line without a turbine, at least 1 1/2 miles away from the nearest home and at least 3 miles away from an airport, park or hunting area.

It also sets new density requirements for wind turbines – no more than one per square mile – and outlaws nondisclosure agreements between energy companies and landowners during negotiations over a proposed lease.

The bill “is not saying that wind development projects can’t happen in Kansas. It’s not saying Kansas doesn’t support renewable energy,” said Marshall County resident Gayla Randel.

What it does is provide is “oversight and regulation for wind development,” said Randel, who lives near the proposed 108-turbine Irish Creek Wind Farm being developed by NextEra Energy.

Randel raised concerns about the lack of studies about the impact on water and wildlife and a general lack of transparency about the project.

She accused the Marshall County Commission of rolling over for the wind farm developer out fear of getting sued.

“This is what happens to a community when you have a state that has no regulations,” she said.

Kimberly Svaty represents the Advanced Power Alliance, a trade association that promotes renewable energy sources such as wind.

Svaty said the wind energy companies are environmentally sensitive, taking steps to protect native species and preserve land.

“There’s a lot of not-in-my backyard associated with these pieces of legislation,” she said of the oppostion to the wind turbines.

Randel’s comments reflected the concerns of other residents who want legislators to put controls on a young industry that is credited with creating thousands of jobs and billions in economic investment.

Bryan Coover of Galesburg lives near where the Neosho Ridge Wind Farm is now under construction in Neosho County.

When Coover first heard Neosho County was considering a wind farm, he told the county commission he didn’t care about the appearance of the turbines, flashing lights and even property values.

“I really like to sleep in my own bed at night,” he said.

“As time’s gone on, it became obvious that wasn’t going to happen,” he said. “And now that the wind turbines are where we live, we find, unfortunately, that is not true.

“If the wind is blowing, you can’t sleep at home.”

Hal Aggers of Linn County compared Thompson’s bill to federal occupational safety regulations intended to protect employees on the job.

“Senate Bill 279 is regulation that protects people – protecting the values of their home, protecting their health and safety and, yet, protecting even those who want to sign a lease agreement,” Aggers said.

“It protects our counties that don’t have planning and zoning, it gives them a strict guideline to follow,” he said.

“I want you to please put yourself in the shoes of these people that have been taken advantage of and have watched the values of their homes go down,” he said.

“Ask yourself, ‘Can I tell the people of this great state that I think more of wind turbine companies than their livelihoods.”

The hearing on Monday was reminiscent of a debate that played out in 2019, when lawmakers considered new setback requirements that were described as some of the most restrictive siting requirements for wind turbines in the country.

The legislation was introduced in response to complaints from rural Kansas residents who  complained that the state’s wind industry hurts property values, poses health risks and disrupts their overall quality of life.

The 2019 bill was turned back in a legislative committee, but Thompson introduced new legislation this year that is much broader in scope after meeting with various community groups with concerns about wind turbines.

The wind industry says nothing less than its survival is on the line with the legislation Thompson is sponsoring.

“This isn’t a bill to actually talk about rational siting,” said Alan Claus Anderson, vice chair of the Polsinelli law firm’s energy practice group.

“It is to end wind energy development,” he said.

Polsinelli’s energy group on Monday released a study showing that the wind industry has made about $1.6 billion in direct payments to communities, landowners and property taxes over the last 20 years.

As of 2020, the state had 40 wind farms that have been built over the last two decades.

The report credited them with creating about 8,700 construction jobs, 560 operational jobs and about 13,000 indirect or induced jobs.