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The wind of change

This is a personal fight for me. I don’t want to look at them. I don’t want to see them,” said Commissioner Lorie Johnson. She said she frequently drives past wind turbines in nearby Crawford County. “It looks like a space zone with all the red flickering lights. It’s just absurd. I can’t imagine living underneath that. I can’t imagine living near it. I don’t want to. That’s as close as I want them.”

A growing wind farm industry has brought clean energy and money to Kansans. But not everyone is happy.

A wind firm was asking landowners about leasing land for turbines.

The commissioners also heard from their counterparts in Neosho and Labette counties who cautioned against allowing wind farms.

Neosho County Commissioner Paul Westhoff said the area is too densely populated for wind farms. It isn’t like the wide open plains in western Kansas or Texas, where single homes might be separated by miles.

Two of Cherokee County’s commissioners came to the meeting already convinced wind farms weren’t in the county’s future.

“This is a personal fight for me. I don’t want to look at them. I don’t want to see them,” said Commissioner Lorie Johnson.

She said she frequently drives past wind turbines in nearby Crawford County.

“It looks like a space zone with all the red flickering lights. It’s just absurd. I can’t imagine living underneath that. I can’t imagine living near it. I don’t want to. That’s as close as I want them.”

Johnson said she “moved to the country for a reason.” Aside from interrupting the view, she said she is worried about the lasting effects of wind turbines on her kids and grandkids.

“With all due... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

A growing wind farm industry has brought clean energy and money to Kansans. But not everyone is happy.

A wind firm was asking landowners about leasing land for turbines.

The commissioners also heard from their counterparts in Neosho and Labette counties who cautioned against allowing wind farms.

Neosho County Commissioner Paul Westhoff said the area is too densely populated for wind farms. It isn’t like the wide open plains in western Kansas or Texas, where single homes might be separated by miles.

Two of Cherokee County’s commissioners came to the meeting already convinced wind farms weren’t in the county’s future.

“This is a personal fight for me. I don’t want to look at them. I don’t want to see them,” said Commissioner Lorie Johnson.

She said she frequently drives past wind turbines in nearby Crawford County.

“It looks like a space zone with all the red flickering lights. It’s just absurd. I can’t imagine living underneath that. I can’t imagine living near it. I don’t want to. That’s as close as I want them.”

Johnson said she “moved to the country for a reason.” Aside from interrupting the view, she said she is worried about the lasting effects of wind turbines on her kids and grandkids.

“With all due respect, I’m ready to go to war,” she said. “I will fight for this with everything that I have.”

The three commissioners question the lifetime of wind turbines, federal subsidies for renewable energy sources and the impact on local roads.

The commission unanimously adopted a one-year moratorium on wind energy development in Cherokee County.

For wind advocates and industry insiders, the fight against wind development in places like southeast Kansas comes as no surprise.

MISINFORMATION

Brandon Hernandez, a wind development manager with RWE, attended the Labette County meeting to answer questions and give as much insight as he could. But he said he was caught off guard by some of the arguments, because they were based on inaccurate understanding of wind energy or on falsities.

Shortly after the prayer for guidance ended on that July evening, members of the Labette County Neighbors United began presenting information.

“I’m not an expert on wind energy or any of that. I’ve researched it to the best of my ability for the last two years,” said David Oas, a Labette County resident.

Lonnie Addis, the only Labette County commissioner opposing the new project, said he’s concerned about sound sensitivity and the health impact of having turbines near children.

Despite a preponderance of evidence in peer reviewed studies that wind farms do not negatively affect health, those concerns continue to swirl at these debates.

Williamson, a Labette County resident, said that, like others, he got most of his information from wind-watch.org.

“It’s peer reviewed,” Williamson said. “It’s not a bunch of voodoo science.”

But wind-watch.org is a website run by citizens and groups with “concerns about wind power.” While some of the information it pulls is from reliable resources, such as the U.S. Department of Energy or university research, the information is shared with a stated goal to “provide a means for diverse groups fighting inappropriate wind energy projects to share information and strengthen each other.”

When looking for reliable resources about wind developments, Jeremy Firestone, director of the Center for Research in Wind, recommends looking at government, university and newspaper sources.

“There are some web pages where you have to dig in to see who is funding them,” Firestone said. “It comes up as ‘Save our shores!’ but it’s really just a front for an organization that doesn’t care about saving shores. They just don’t want offshore wind.”

Firestone, who studies citizens’ perceptions of wind energy and developments, said that many of the arguments against wind energy are the same across the nation.

“There are always opponents. There are not a lot of things in the U.S. where we can even get 60% of people to agree. I mean, look at our dysfunctional Congress,” Firestone said. “We don’t always move in lockstep, and that’s OK.”

But his research has shown that opponents of wind energy are usually outnumbered 5 to 1.

“If you just listen at meetings, you can get a really skewed understanding of how many people support it,” Firestone said.

PROPERTY VALUES

When Josh Ghering spent two tours in Iraq, he said, he did it to fight for Americans’ freedoms. He returned to southeast Kansas to carve out a quiet life for himself and his family.

“When I was medically retired, I needed a nice, quiet place to live,” Ghering said.

Now he is ready to pick up his mantle again to “fight for Labette County’s freedom.”

An unofficial leader and spokesperson for the Labette County Neighbors United group, Ghering takes his calling seriously. If a wind farm moves in, property values could decrease by up to 60%, he says.

However, Mike Busch, at Wichita State University, for years has researched wind farms’ impact on property values. His findings were consistent with research done throughout the nation, which found there is no material impact on property values.

“Even if some people don’t like having a wind turbine nearby, in the home market, that doesn’t seem to affect enough people to impact home values,” Busch said. “The market is made up of all homebuyers, and in that large market, there’s just not enough who it seems to have an effect on.”

Firestone studied and surveyed those who lived within 5 miles of a wind farm and found that most respondents would rather live next to a wind project than any other energy generation project, even commercial solar.

Brian Kenzie, a Labette County commissioner in favor of the wind farms, is fighting for his seat in office because of his stance on RWE’s development.

“I’ve talked to commissioners who have them, and it’s a blessing for most of them,” Kenzie said. “It helps their schools. It increases revenue for farmers. It’s a win-win-win.”

While Kenzie, a Republican serving his fourth term, does not believe wind energy is the only answer to electricity needs, he said Labette County cannot afford to pass up the financial opportunity, especially when citizens and farmers are hiring.

“Tell me another industry with $65 million (invested) that’s interested in coming to our county,” Kenzie said.

“They can kick me out, but the wind is coming.”


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OCT 24 2021
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