Skip Navigation

Two Kansas Counties Stop Major Wind, Solar Industrial Developments

October 15, 2019
By Duggan Flanakin

Two central Kansas counties are applying the brakes to the expansion of industrial wind facilities within their borders.

Two central Kansas counties are applying the brakes to the expansion of industrial wind facilities within their borders.

Reno and Sedgwick Counties turned away efforts by Florida-based NextEra, the world’s largest utility company, to build an 80-turbine project within the counties’ borders.

A decade ago, Kansas was fast becoming one of the top five states in wind energy capacity, as developers built at least 34 industrial facilities across the state. The Kansas Department of Commerce dubbed the state second in the nation in wind energy potential.

At 36 percent, more of Kansas’ electric power capacity, as a percentage of state’s electric power supply deliverable to the grid, comes from wind than that of any other state.

Public Raised Concerns

In the past decade, the public has raised concerns about the health effects, such as epileptic seizures, and noise from wind turbines, bird and bat deaths caused by commercial wind and solar facilities, and, importantly for the peoples of Reno and Sedgwick County, interference with air traffic.

In a presentation to Sedgwick County Commissioners when NextEra’s proposal for the construction of new wind facilities was discussed, Dave Yearout, principal planner for Wichita and Sedgwick counties,  cited research showing wind facilities can cause dangerous atmospheric conditions more than five miles from where large wind turbines are located, which he said could affect small aircraft using small airports and private landing strips across the counties and training exercises at McConnell Air Force Base.

Subsequently, the Sedgwick County Commissioners banned commercial wind facilities from the county and enacted new permitting requirements for commercial solar energy industrial facilities, to protect aviation and small airports in the area. Under the county commission’s new regulations, passed in mid-August, large-scale solar facilities will have to receive FAA approval if they are to be sited within a mile of airport facilities.

The rule exempts installations of small rooftop solar energy systems on homes or businesses, and privately owned windmills 45 feet tall or less.

Residents Petitioned for Vote

Before the Sedgwick County Commissioners enacted the ban, several local landowners owning land near the border of Reno County had leased their properties to NextEra for wind development.

In response, Reno County commissioners approved a petition by county residents to require a unanimous vote by the county commissioners to authorize any wind farm project in the county. The petition may have proven critical. In late June, only one commissioner sided with residents in opposing the NextEra plans, and that single vote was enough to block approval.

NextEra has developed wind and solar facilities in 35 states, including six in western Kansas. The August decision was the first time a major wind farm had been rejected in Kansas in a decade.

At the state level, legislators filed Kansas House Bill 2273 in February, which would have established a state law keeping wind turbines away from homes, parks, public buildings, wildlife refuges, and public hunting areas. Turbines would have had to be at least 1.5 miles from any residential property or public building and three miles from any airport, public hunting area, public park, or local, state, or federal wildlife refuge. The bill never received a vote in the committee.

Serious Aviation, Wildlife Effects

The negative effects of wind turbines and large-scale solar facilities on aviation and birds weigh heavily against them, says Susan Erlenwein, director of Sedgwick County Environmental Resources.

“Sedgwick County has over 30 aircraft runways and is the home to an Air Force base, a national airport, and small aircraft manufacturers, including Learjet, Textron Beechcraft, and Textron Cessna,” said Erlenwein. “In addition, Audubon says wind turbines kill an estimated 140,000 to 328,000 birds each year in North America, making it the most threatening form of green energy, and yet it’s also one of the most rapidly expanding energy industries. More than 49,000 individual wind turbines now exist across 39 states.

“Some birds think the glare from solar panels is water surface, and they’ll land on those,” Erlenwein said. “If they’re waterfowl, a lot of those need to run on the water surface to take off again, and they can’t do that on a solar panel [because they do not present an extended continuous surface], so they’ll die.”

Human Health Hazard

A two-year study conducted for the Brown County, Wisconsin Board of Health concluded industrial wind technology poses a significant human health hazard, says John Droz, executive director of the Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions.

“Brown County’s Board of Health concluded noise from wind turbines can cause health problems for persons in occupied structures and that construction, boring, and connection of wind turbines, one to the other and to the substations underground, together with the vibrations from the turbines themselves, could pose a contamination threat to the county’s drinking water supply,” Droz said. “The board also called for the state of Wisconsin to provide temporary emergency financial relocation assistance to residents who are suffering adverse health effects and undue hardships that they attribute to the irresponsible placement of industrial wind turbines around their homes.

“I’m surprised the Kansas investigations did not cite this study, because you must consider the impacts on people when considering wind turbines, and there are well-documented health impacts from wind farms,” said Droz.

Duggan Flanakin (dflanakin@gmail.com) writes from Austin, Texas.

Internet Info

Kenneth Artz, “Health Threat from Wisconsin Wind Farm Affirmed,” Environment & Climate News, October 29, 2014: https://www.heartland.org/news-opinion/news/health-threat-from-wisconsin-wind-farm-affirmed

“Heartland Institute Experts Comment on Wind Turbines Being a ‘Human Health Hazard,’” The Heartland Institute, October 29, 2014: https://www.heartland.org/news-opinion/news/heartland-institute-experts-comment-on-wind-turbines-being-a-human-health-hazard