Story by Brian Grimmett
WICHITA, Kansas — Wind now cranks up more kilowatts than any other power source in the state.
Yet even as towering turbines and their slow-churning blades come to increasingly define the Kansas landscape, a counter movement seems to take hold.
A bill pending in the Kansas Legislature would all but outlaw the erection of more of those giant turbines by saying that companies couldn’t place them within a mile and a half of an existing building.
The legislation would also bar new wind farms within three miles from any airport and one mile from the property line of anybody not participating in the development.
“This bill would be the most wind unfriendly legislation in the entire wind belt,” Dave Kerr, a former Kansas Senate President, told members of the Senate Utilities Committee. “We would have no more new wind farms in Kansas.”
Setbacks aim to protect people and buildings from wind noise, the flicker of the turbine blades’ shadows and debris from any catastrophic failure.
Such rules typically come at the local level — by county zoning laws or conditional use permits. In Kansas, they range anywhere between 500 feet and about half a mile, depending on the county.
Kingman County in south-central Kansas is home to three large-scale wind farms and officials there want the freedom to make their own rules on where turbines should go. After all, wind projects stirred up business and government revenues.
“Leave our local control alone,” said Mike Temisch, a Kingman County commissioner. “We can work with our people. Yeah, we’re not going to make everybody happy and somebody is going to be mad. But as of right now, we’re moving forward with more wind farms.”
Before the hearings began, a law firm that often works on wind projects in Kansas, released a report touting all of the benefits of wind development.
The report claims that since the first large-scale project was built in 2001, wind development has created 8,682 construction and 563 operational jobs. It also said that the industry has contributed to supporting more than 12,000 indirect jobs.
The report also highlighted the amount of money the projects can bring in. Wind farms don’t pay counties property taxes at the moment, but they have paid more than $657 million in other negotiated payments and donations.
Wind energy has also led to almost $48 million a year in lease payments to local landowners.
But growing pushback to wind development in several Kansas counties drives the legislation in Topeka. It reflects the sort of sentiment that blocked a wind farm near Pretty Prairie in Reno County.
Activists in other counties feel local officials haven’t taken their objections seriously. A state law would change that.
“I have a right and I feel that you all have an obligation to protect my rights,” Mike Burns of Eudora said during committee hearings. “You have an obligation to do something statewide.”
Along with concerns over damage to property values, supporters of the bill also worry about the impacts of noise, the potential for ice to break off of blades and damage their houses, and how the turbines will kill birds and bats.
Diane Havercamp is the City Clerk in Corning, Kansas. She supports the bill and says small cities and towns like hers don’t have the money or experience to stand up to large wind developers. She told the committee that the economic gains aren’t worth the conflict between those who want the turbines and those who don’t.
“No other small community should have to go through the same hardships that we have over the past two years,” she said. “Our community seriously has wounds that will probably never heal.”
Brian Grimmett reports on the environment, energy and natural resources for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of Kansas Public Radio, KCUR, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio – focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.