Kansas bill would require wind farms to minimize blinking lights

‘They are simply not being good neighbors,’ one Kansas resident says of wind farm developers.

By: - March 9, 2022 4:16 pm

A Kansas Senate bill would require that wind farm developers do more to mitigate the blinking lights at the tops of turbines. (Jill Hummels for the Kansas Reflector)

Residents of the Kansas prairie asked legislators Wednesday to restore the night sky they say is dominated by red blinking lights from industrial wind turbines. 

“One of the greatest things about living in rural Kansas is being able to enjoy the night sky, the moon and the stars … the red blinking lights have taken that away from us,” said Shenan Cline, a Marshall County resident.

In recent decades, windswept Kansas has become a hotspot for wind energy development. The state has the fourth-largest generating capacity in the nation behind Texas, Iowa and Oklahoma. And it’s expected to keep growing. 

But that wind development, critics say, has come at a price. Some residents feel the looming towers disrupt the peace of rural Kansas, especially the red blinking lights at the top meant to keep planes from crashing into turbines. 

They want Kansas to pass legislation mandating lighting systems that detect nearby aircraft and only blink when necessary, or dimming technology. And they want to leave it up to county commissions to evaluate lighting systems and approve them for projects. Proponents say it’s a cost effective way to minimize the annoyance to rural neighbors. 

David Fisher, a Centerville resident, said wind developers were “pinching pennies” by not installing light-mitigating systems. 

“They are simply not being good neighbors,” he said. 

Industry representatives say they’re sympathetic to the concern, but that the bill introduced by Sen. Mike Thompson, a Johnson County Republican and chair of the Senate Utilities Committee is unworkable. 

Josh Svaty, a lobbyist representing the Kansas Power Alliance and former gubernatorial candidate, said, first and foremost, the Federal Aviation Administration selects the lighting systems — not only on a project of dozens or 100 turbines, but on each turbine. 

“We do not choose the lighting systems that go on the towers,” Svaty said. “I’m going to pause for dramatic effect here, and then I’m going to say it again. We do not choose the lighting systems that go on the tops of the towers.” 

Thompson’s committee has seen a litany of bills this legislative session meant to make developing wind — and sometimes solar — farms more difficult, including provisions allowing non-participating neighbors to contest wind farms, barring turbines from being built within a mile of an adjacent property line and outlawing noise and shadow flicker from the turbines.

Last month, the committee heard two days of informational testimony from critics of wind energy, a third day from critics speaking on one of Thompson’s bills and only one day from the industry and proponents of renewable development. 

Taken together, one renewable energy attorney said, Thompson’s bills would end wind energy in Kansas.

Thompson sought to ban testimony by an environmental health specialist who contradicted his claims about the so-called health effects of industrial wind farms. 

Representatives of the wind energy industry asked that the committee consider a longer discussion about how to mitigate blinking lights on wind turbines rather than move forward with what they saw as a flawed bill. 

Thompson asked them to sit down with proponents of the legislation to work on improvements.

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Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she’s covered state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City, and most recently was City Hall reporter for The Kansas City Star.