TOPEKA — Anderson County resident Mike Burns ripped pages of his prepared speech in half Monday to speak from the heart about why Kansas had to pass a law regulating placement of wind farms to protect property rights and bring peace of mind to folks in rural areas attractive to developers.
Burns joined dozens of people at the Capitol eager to testify on behalf of Senate Bill 279, which would establish state-crafted regulation of wind generation facilities from the turbine to power line. It would replace county commission preferences for or against wind farms with state law defining turbine setbacks from businesses, parks, homes, property lines and much more. The maximum density would be one turbine per square mile, well below the current standard. There would be caps on sound and light emitted by turbines that sometimes reach 500 feet into the sky.
Landowners and community organizations would gain leverage to block projects if the bill became law, and wind farm advocates contend passage of the measure would put an end to the industry’s growth in Kansas.
Burns said he moved to eastern Kansas to open a pharmacy because of the area’s rural appeal. He wanted some acreage near Garnett to enjoy the outdoors and build a home to raise a family. He was confident there was little anyone could do to undermine his dreams.
“I thought there would be no chance of anything taking that all away,” he told the Senate Utilities Committee. “My family and our assets were protected. My rights were protected. So I thought.”
In 2015, Burns said, a representative of Calpine Energy called to inquire about leasing ground on his property for a wind farm. He turned away the offer after concluding wind farms, which he referred to as “power plants,” were recipients of massive tax subsidies, created few permanent jobs, fostered community divisiveness, negatively influenced health, created issues with daytime flicker shadows and nighttime blinking lights, depended on “predatory” leases with landowners, disrupted sleep with sound pollution and were subjected to relatively little regulation.
Burns said the Anderson County Commission listened to skeptics and adopted some barriers to deter developers of wind farms. The problem, he said, was that dozens of Kansas counties didn’t have zoning to restrain fat-cat developers and their persuasive attorneys and lobbyists. The Kansas Legislature should stop treating rural people like second-class citizens and stand up for uniform management of wind projects and the protection of rural property rights, he said.
“Why are there no wind power plants in Johnson County? Wyandotte? Sedgwick? Shawnee?” Burns said. “If they have no impact, then why? How would any of you feel if there were a massage parlor or night club coming into your neighborhood? Fast food, gas station or even a landfill or factory?”
He was joined by seven other people who spoke to the committee in desperate terms about their desire to stop spread of wind farms in Kansas, a state with more than 3,000 turbines scattered among 40 developments in 30 counties. Twenty-five people had signed up to personally share testimony with senators, while more than 40 submitted written comments in favor of Senate Bill 279.
Opponents of the bill take the microphone Tuesday in an attempt to sway the Republican-led committee chaired by Sen. Mike Thompson, a Johnson County Republican who called wind turbines a public nuisance in need of retraint afforded by state statute.
Alan Anderson, a Kansas attorney who specializes in energy development projects, said during a news conference at the Capitol that $14 billion had been invested so far in wind farms scattered in Kansas. These projects created 22,000 construction, operational and indirect jobs during the past 20 years.
Companies with turbines on private land pay $48 million annually in lease payments to those individuals, he said. Over the 20-year life of the Kansas wind farms in operation now, he said, an estimated $962 million in lease payments would be made to landowners.
In addition, he said, companies investing in Kansas wind farms had committed to providing communities with $657 million over 20 years in property taxes and for priorities ranging from law enforcement to education.
“The message that a bill like Senate Bill 279 sends out to these different companies is … maybe we’re not a stable environment, maybe we are not a place you should consider locating,” Anderson said. “Make no mistake at all. Senate Bill 279 would end all wind energy development in Kansas. That’s frankly the intent of the bill. This isn’t a bill to actually talk about rational siting. It’s to end wind energy development.”
Kimberly Svaty, who represents Advanced Power Alliance, said testimony from wind developers scheduled to speak Tuesday would demonstrate reluctance to invest in new wind farms in Kansas under terms of the Senate bill. It’s too easy for wind investment companies to pivot to locations in other heartland states, she said.
“They’re all saying that they will not invest another penny in the state of Kansas,” she said. “It’s not a threat, but it underscores the competition the state is in for jobs and investment.”
Dennis Hedke, a former member of the Kansas House who operates Hedke Geoscience Consulting in Wichita, said the Senate bill was necessary because so many Kansans experienced unrest, physical discomfort, mental anguish and economic hardship as a result of prolific development of industrial wind energy in this state. He said there was no justification for construction of turbines so close to private dwellings that residents struggled to sleep or dealt with irritation of vibration caused by blades with an outward speed over 150 mph.
“Study after study by highly credentialed professionals have unequivocally confirmed the negative impacts experienced by residents in many states and countries,” Hedke said. “Yet, a large number of county commissions have ignored their pleas for relief. Some commissioners have, in absolute fact, colluded with developers and are culpable for the tactics that have been deployed against private citizens.”
He said wind projects did “absoluely nothing to bring material benefit to the earth’s climate” despite claims to the contrary. It’s high time the wind industry accept it cannot replace fossil and nuclear fuels to sustain electricity grid requirements, he said.
Gayla Randel, a retired educator living near the community of Frankfort in Marshall County, said NextEra Energies introduced the Irish Creek Wind Project in 2019 with plans to start construction in April. The unregulated environment could lead to more than 100 turbines, each 500 feet tall, with the consent of 32 property owners in the wind farm footprint. Of 85 nonparticipating or uncompensated landowners nearby, she said, half had at least one turbine within 3,900 feet of their homes. None of those residents are more than two miles from a turbine, she said.
“One nonparticipating landowner will have nine turbines within a mile of their home,” Randel said. “Three nonparticipating landowners will have eight turbines within a mile of their homes.”
She said Marshall County was recognized as a Flint Hills counties, but the county wasn’t included in the wind farm moritorium initiated by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in 2005 nor the expanded exclusion zone adopted by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback in 2011.
“Why is this development being allowed to happen? Because Kansas has no guidance for our county commissioners who repeatedly said we cannot stop it unless we want to be sued. They were ill-prepared to make such a life changing decision. Wind developers can do this because no one has said they cannot,” Randel said.