Concerns grow as wind farm discussion progress

The possibility of two new local wind farms has sparked many conversations recently, and many concerns have been brought up regarding the turbines and their placement within Nemaha and Brown counties. 

A Community Informational Meeting — organized by Dan and Amy Kopp and Matthew Smith with information presented by rural Sabetha resident Galen Ackerman — was held Wednesday, Dec. 12, and drew approximately 120 local residents to the Fairview Community Building.

This meeting was held with the intent of educating the residents of Brown and Nemaha counties about the effects of wind farms. This comes as county commissioners are in the midst of negotiating agreements with the two energy companies – NextEra Energy Resources and Invenergy. 

Topics at the Community Informational Meeting included setbacks, health effects, quality of life, neighbor considerations and additional income. Following the meeting, The Sabetha Herald reached out to both NextEra and Invenergy in regard to some of these topics.

Project History

Wind farms in this area began with the Flat Water Wind Farm — located north of Bern just across the Nebraska state line in Richardson County, Neb. — which was completed in November 2010. With the possibility of wind farms moving into Nemaha County, county commissioners decided to sign a resolution to help protect Nemaha County landowners.

On Sept. 17, 2012, Nemaha County commissioners at that time– Chairman Mark Wessel, and commissioners Gary Scoby and Tim Burdiek – signed Resolution 2012-8, which established criteria and conditions to regulate commercial wind energy projects. This resolution established wind turbine location requirements and penalties if any piece of the resolution was violated. 

The location requirements established in the resolution said that all wind turbines that exceeded 150 feet in height should be located no closer than 3,000 feet from an active residential building without the express written permission of all owners of any such residential building. It also stated that no turbine shall be located closer than 1,500 feet from a property line, without the express written consent of all owners of real property adjacent to such property line.

The penalty for violating this resolution would be a $5,000 fine per turbine for each day in which the turbine’s location, in whole or in part, violated the provision.

In 1998, Kansas Statute 79-201 was put into place, which allowed any property that was predominantly used to produce and generate electricity utilizing renewable energy resources to receive a lifetime property tax exemption, as long as a conditional use permit was in place. See Section 11 of the entire statute at https://www.ksrevisor.org/statutes/chapters/ch79/079_002_0001.html.

On Dec. 12, 2016, the Nemaha County Commission rescinded Resolution 2012-8, and established Resolution 2016-8, which approved a conditional use permit and the wind energy district for Washington Republic, LLC, to develop, construct, own and operate a wind power project in Nemaha County. The language for this resolution was provided by NextEra. The commissioners at that time– Chairman Gary Scoby, and commissioners Tim Burdiek and Dennis Henry – voted 3-0 in approval of Resolution 2016-8. 

Resolution 2016-8 states:

• The Developer will abide by applicable federal and state codes, as a guide for the development of the wind farm;

• Wind Turbines and related structures shall be located on property that the Developer owns or will own or will have a lease, easement agreement and will be installed in compliance with the manufacturer’s recommended specifications for installation;

• A road maintenance agreement must be entered and approved before construction begins;

• Collection line and communication lines are able to be installed underground unless the routing of such lines requires them to be above ground; 

• All turbines will be GPS located and Nemaha County may assign 911 addresses for each turbine;

• Sanitation: The developer or its contractor is responsible for all waste streams created, stored and transported and must follow all state and federal laws.

• Personnel: Follow all county, state and federal employees’ regulations as well as OSHA, EPA and DOT Requirements

• Turbine Identification Numbers shall be clearly visible at normal sight level, no logos unless approved by commissioners, no latice turbine structures. The developer must also provide studies showing that the turbines will not unreasonably interfere with wireless communication reception and should conform to the Federal Communication Commission regulations.

• The Developer will supply necessary special rescue equipment and training to appropriate EMS and Fire Departments to accommodate high angle rescue.

• All tower lighting will comply with FAA regulations, as well as any other state and federal requirements.

• Prior to construction, the developer will execute an agreement with the county that the developer is responsible for the decommissioning, dismantling and removal of wind project at the end of its useful life, and to restore property to a condition that is agreed upon by both parties.

• Prior to construction the developer and the County shall execute an agreement where the developer agrees to pay a contribution payment or payments to the county.

About the Projects

Soldier Creek Wind Farm

This is NextEra’s project and will feature approximately 120 turbines with each turbine taking up less than one acre of land in the southern portion of Nemaha County. The project’s initial footprint was located in four of the 20 townships in Nemaha County. The project has now expanded to reach at least 15 of the townships. 

NextEra is the only company currently in Nemaha County who met the cut-off date of Dec. 31, 2016, to receive the lifetime property tax exemption. The initial footprint – Wetmore, Reilly, Harrison and Red Vermillion townships – is currently the only portion of this project that meets the lifetime property tax exemption. In regards to the enlarged footprint, which adds the Gilman, Rock Creek, Richmond, Center, Mitchell, Adams, Capioma, Home, Illinois, Granada and Neuchatel townships, NextEra Energy Resources Representative Bryan Garner said they are currently discussing the tax exemption with county commissioners.

“We are talking with county commissioners about providing a contribution agreement so that the county can benefit financially from the project and gain additional revenue to help support roads, schools and other essential services,” he said.

Pony Express Wind Farm

This is Invenergy’s project and will feature 200 to 400 turbines that are 800 megawatts each. This project covers the northern portion of Nemaha County and the northwestern portion of Brown County. Specifically in Nemaha County, the project is currently planned to be in 12 out of the 20 townships. Invenergy also obtained the right to the Grain Belt Powerline.

As of Dec. 10, between both projects, the Nemaha County Register of Deeds has recorded active industrial wind turbines in all 20 Nemaha County townships.

Why here?

According to Garner and Drucker, Brown and Nemaha counties are great sources of wind.

“Nemaha County has a great wind resource, and its residents should have an opportunity to harvest that wind to their own benefit,” Garner said. “This project is located near consistent wind resources, which ensure a steady flow of wind. There are also high voltage transmission lines nearby with available capacity, which makes the area suitable for a wind energy project.”

Drucker said there are many benefits – local and statewide – for this specific project.

“Invenergy is developing in Brown and Nemaha counties because of a very robust wind resource, landowners who wish to participate, and its close proximity to major load centers,” he said. “Consumers across Kansas and the wider region, including individuals, public institutions, and commercial and industrial customers, are demanding more renewable energy.”

Drucker continued, saying landowners and local governments alike will benefit from the project.

“Invenergy has entered into agreements with many local landowners who are interested in participating in this wind development,” he said. “Individual landowners benefit from land lease payments, and local governments benefit from increased tax revenues. This project will support hundreds of workers during wind farm construction and will create between an estimated 20 and 30 well-paying, permanent operations and maintenance jobs.”

Concerns

Setbacks

With Resolution 2016-8 in place, there are no setback regulations in Nemaha County, thus setbacks are regulated according to the manufacturer’s recommendations or the industry’s best practices. According to Garner, NextEra Energy Resources is committed to meeting or exceeding all the regulatory requirements and working with the community to ensure that the most appropriate sites for generating wind energy are selected. 

“For this project, we will site the turbines at least 1,400 feet from any homes or business, which is consistent with industry best practices and our experience building wind farms across the country,” Garner said. “This is consistent with industry best practices and exceeds the setbacks recommended by the turbine manufacturer. The ultimate objectives of choosing a site are to make certain there is minimal impact to the community and – only when this is ensured – identify areas with the best potential to generate energy from wind.”

Invenergy Representative Nat Drucker, said there is not a standard setback for each location for renewable energy as each development is unique.

“Invenergy complies with site-specific setbacks established by our engineers and those that may be established by the state or county and that allow for the responsible development of our projects,” Drucker said. “We design wind projects and determine turbine locations in a way that minimizes impacts on project participants and neighbors. For this project, Invenergy will not site any wind turbines closer than one-quarter mile [1,320 feet] from dwellings.”

Garner said that NextEra is required to comply with the zoning regulations of the counties where they develop projects and have received positive feedback regarding their current setbacks. Currently, Nemaha and Brown counties are not zoned.

With the setback regulations being left to NextEra and Invenergy – since there are no current resolutions in place in either county – many citizens are starting to question whether or not there will be any negative health effects due to these turbines potentially being placed only 1,400 feet away from their homes.

Health

At the Community Informational Meeting, Ackerman – based on his research – presented two possible negative health effects in regard to wind turbines, which are noise and shadow flicker. Even though Ackerman’s research cited peer-reviewed articles, including information from Cambridge University and the National Center for Biotechnology Information, NextEra and Invenergy said there are no peer-reviewed studies that establish a link between wind farms and negative health impacts on humans or animals.

“Wind turbines do produce sound and may infrequently generate shadows as the sun passes behind their blades,” Drucker said. “The overwhelming majority of people who live in the vicinity of wind turbines report no issues whatsoever.”

“Based on the findings and scientific merit of the over 80 available, peer-reviewed scientific studies, the weight of evidence suggests that wind turbines are not related to adverse health effects,” Garner said. “Kansans have safely lived and worked around wind farms for decades.”

According to a Health Fact Sheet that was provided by NextEra, there are no negative impacts – including audible noise, low frequency noise, infrasound and shadow flicker – on health when wind turbines are properly sited. 

However, during the Community Informational Meeting, Ackerman presented a first-hand account from Ted Hartke, president of Hartke Engineering and Surveying, Inc. In his presentation, Ackerman provided photos and videos of Hartke discussing the wind turbines that were operated by Invenergy and located next to his home in Vermillion County, Ill. 

In the presentation, it was shown that Hartke’s house was located 1,665 feet away from the closest turbine, with the second closest being 3,147 feet. According to Hartke, these wind turbines – which started producing electricity in approximately January 2013 – caused his family sleep deprivation because they were too close to their home. 

Hartke reported that, due to the noise from the wind turbines, he contacted Invenergy and they turned off the turbines 51 times at night between January 2013 and May 2013. In May 2013, Invenergy stopped providing relief, and the family eventually abandoned all of their bedrooms and tried sleeping in their living room, which was the innermost room of their house. Hartke’s daughter, Sophia, tried wearing headphones to reduce the low frequency noise.

In one of the videos, Hartke said, “For us, it wasn’t that it was horribly loud or hurting our ears. For us, it was about the duration. It wore us down and it did not go away.”

“I do believe that some of us are more sensitive to sound than others, there is no question about that. We see it in day-to-day life anyway,” Ackerman said, regarding Hartke’s video. “My wife and I are sensitive to sound, and some of you may not be. I believe Mr. Hartke and his family were sensitive to sound. There is research that points to 10 to 20 percent of the population [who] may fall in that category. The thing is, is some sounds are more annoying to certain people than others. I think that the wind turbine noise that he was experiencing is something that he and his family were not able to tolerate.”

Ackerman also showed a YouTube video that depicted shadow flicker and what it looks like.

Shadow flicker is defined as the flickering effect caused when rotating wind turbine blades periodically cast shadows through constrained openings such as the windows of neighboring properties.

“So, I asked myself, we don’t have a lot of experience in Brown or Nemaha counties with wind turbines, so are some people more sensitive to shadow flicker than others?” Ackerman said. “And it usually only occurs for a short period of time – in the mornings and evenings – depending on wind direction and a lot of things and sun position.”

“Why are we not hearing of these problems from the people living up by the Flat Water project up north,” Ackerman said, regarding the turbines north of Bern. 

Garner said that Next Era conducts shadow flicker studies and design their projects to minimize its effect.

“Shadow flicker is an aesthetic rather than a safety issue,” he said.

Garner also said that Next Era sites their projects responsibly and in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations.

“Wind turbines are safe,” Garner said. “We operate more than 120 successful wind farms across the country and wouldn’t be able to continue to do so if we didn’t do it responsibly and in partnership with the community. We are committed to working with the community to ensure that shadow flicker and noise will not impact residents.”

Ackerman also discussed infrasound, which is sound waves with frequencies below the lower limit of human audibility. A lot of things produce infrasound. Certain things produce more or less and different frequencies.

One of the biggest reasons Ackerman said he was opposed to wind turbines being on his property was due to the lack in research regarding certain health factors. He presented a personal slide with his grandkids – one of whom has epilepsy. 

“There is no question medically that strobe type lighting or any kind of flicker or visual flicker, especially light related, can trigger seizures,” Ackerman said. Ackerman also pointed out, that, sometimes, the motion can effect someone with autism.

Ackerman continued to present a study from the National Institute of Health, which showed that seizure risk does not decrease significantly until the distance exceeds 100 times the hub height.

“So if the hub height is a 300 feet hub height, that’s about five miles back,” Ackerman said. “Distance makes a huge difference.” 

A study – which was published in The Journal of Laryngology and Otology in 2013 – was a review done by Cambridge University. The review states the following:

“There is ample evidence of symptoms arising in individuals exposed to wind turbine noise. Some researchers maintain that the effects of wind turbine syndrome are clearly just examples of the well known stress effects of exposure to noise, as displayed by a small proportion of the population. However, there is an increasing body of evidence suggesting that infrasound and low frequency noise have physiological effects on the ear. Until these effects are fully understood, it is impossible to state conclusively that exposure to wind turbine noise does not cause any of the symptoms described. The effects of infrasound and low frequency noise require further investigation.”

Technology

During the Community Informational Meeting, Ackerman said he did find some other negative impacts that he came across while doing his research, including wind turbine effects on radio broadcasts, doppler radars, cell phone service and tornado warnings.

“In our experience, wind farms rarely impact these technologies,” Garner said. “In the few and unusual cases where analog TV reception has been impacted by one of our wind farms, we have worked with individual landowners to address the issue and find alternative solutions”

Drucker agreed saying, “Generally, wind turbines have no effect on radio, radar, or cell phone service. If a landowner has concerns, our project engineers can work to address those concerns individually.”

Crops and Livestock

Both representatives also stated that wind turbines do not affect crops or livestock.

“Wind energy is very compatible with agricultural land uses and has little impact on existing farming operations,” Garner said. “In fact, many landowners find that the guaranteed income from hosting a wind turbine helps to stabilize the economics of their operations. Farm animals can graze immediately below a wind turbine. Landowners who participate in our other Kansas projects have found that the wind farms are compatible with their livestock operations and that cattle are unaffected by the turbines.”

“Across our more than 90 developed wind projects, farmers and ranchers continue to raise crops and livestock with no issues and with an additional income stream to help hedge against volatile agricultural commodity prices,” Drucker said. “We work closely with farmers to understand how we can site turbines in such a way so as to minimize any inconvenience for their current operations.”

Contracts

With many landowners in Nemaha and Brown counties already signed up to lease their land to one of the companies, some citizens are concerned if they are able to get out of their contracts if they are no longer interested in leasing their land.

“We do not pressure landowners to sign contracts,” Garner said, when asked if NextEra was willing to work with landowners who were already in contracts to lease their land. “In fact, we encourage and pay for landowners to take their contracts to their own attorneys before signing them. We have received strong interest from local landowners and look forward to partnering with them to build a project this community can be proud of.”

Invenergy did not respond directly to this question.

Benefits

When asked what the benefit of wind energy was versus coal or oil and natural gas, Garner and Drucker agreed saying wind is a low-cost source of energy.

“Wind is a home-grown, low-cost source of energy that helps move our country toward energy independence and reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” Garner said. “It creates no greenhouse gases or other air pollutants, uses no water resources to generate electricity and creates no waste by-products. It also creates a steady and reliable source of income for landowners and communities, not susceptible to the ups and downs of commodity prices or weather.”

“Invenergy is the world’s leading privately held developer and operator of sustainable energy solutions including wind power and natural gas, and in every area we develop projects that use the most commercially viable type of power generation technology for that location,” Drucker said. “In this case, that technology is wind. Wind energy is the lowest-cost energy resource available by a wide margin, and the robust wind resource here creates a unique energy development opportunity. In addition to being a non-emitting source of electricity, the construction and operation of a wind project generates new tax revenue, creates jobs and supports economic development.”

Garner also said that the project is expected to generate substantial payments to landowners.

“NextEra Energy Resources has invested nearly $2 billion in the state, including seven successfully operating wind projects,” he said. “The Soldier Creek Wind project will have a positive economic impact on Nemaha County, driving jobs, salaries and business activity for the community. The project is also expected to deliver more than $50 million in landowner payments.”

Ackerman pointed out during the Community Informational Meeting that in his research, he has found that most of the jobs are created through the manufacturing of turbines themselves, and to his knowledge the only U.S. owned turbine manufacturer is GE Renewable Energy. 

A local benefit to these two wind projects is the additional income it will provide to landowners.

“Landowner payments from a wind project are stable and reliable,” Garner said. “They can function as a hedge against the fluctuations of commodity prices that farmers and ranchers face. They can expect to earn substantially more money from hosting a wind turbine on an acre of land than any crop that can be grown on that land. Wind energy acts as a drought-resistant cash crop for farmers and ranchers. It allows landowners to continue to use their land while diversifying their income.”

Drucker said Invenergy provides substantial income opportunities to participating landowners.

“Invenergy offers rates for wind turbines and other project infrastructure that provide substantial income opportunities to our participating landowners and are consistent with the market, while still allowing us to generate competitive, clean, low-cost power to consumers in Kansas and beyond,” Drucker said.

When asked if they felt like this additional income was adequate compensation considering the company profits that have been shown, NextEra representative Garner said that each contract is a private agreement between the company and the individual landowner. Invenergy did not respond specifically to this question.

In Ackerman’s research, he found these benefits for participating landowners:

• Annual easement payment of some amount per acre and perhaps a bonus with it;

• One-time installation payment based on the nameplate megawatt of the turbine;

• $4,000 to $5,000 annual “operating fee” per installed megawatt.

Ackerman also presented a statement from the North American Wind Power Association, which said, “We’re harvesting Kansas wind to attract and grow Kansas businesses, and wind energy boosts our local economies starting with the wind farms jobs and lease payments to the landowners hosting the wind farms, all the way to the communities that grow as business choose Kansas.” 

About NextEra Energy Resources

NextEra Energy Resouces is a publicly owned company. According to Ackerman, in 2017, NextEra’s corporate net income was $2.963 billion – this was the official number given to the stockholders. NextEra has 14,000 megawatts of wind and 2,000 megawatts of solar energy. NextEra started leasing in Nemaha County in 2014. 

About Invenergy

Invenergy is a privately owned company. According to Ackerman, Invenergy generated approximately $75 million in revenue in 2017. The company was started in 2001 and is now one of the only major independent, privately-held companies in the capital-intensive power sector. Invenergy started leasing in Nemaha/Brown counties in 2018.

Editors Note: Ackerman strongly suggests that landowners do their own due diligence regarding wind turbines and whether or not they will work for their land and families. See fact sheets from NextEra and Ackerman at the bottom of this post.

Sidebar

Nemaha County Commissioners continue wind farm discussions

The Nemaha County Commission meeting was held Monday, Dec. 17, and drew approximately 15 local residents. These local residents brought up their concerns with the commissioners about the Soldier Creek Wind Farm project. See a full story regarding the Wind Farm projects beginning on Page 1A of this week’s Herald.

To begin, one local landowner updated the commissioners on the status of the project, according to his own research. 

He said he got an updated list from the Register of Deeds, and as of Thursday, Dec. 13, there are now filed wind farm leases in every township of Nemaha County, which expands the project to roughly 54,000 acres. This includes the 14,000 to 15,000 acres that was in the original footprint. These numbers do not include leases from 2008. That is approximately 176 individuals who have already agreed to participate in the project. 

After noting where the current filed leases lie in Nemaha County, the group brought up some of the concerns including health, safety and wellness, and zoning and planning.

The group expressed that there are already residents in Nemaha County who have experience with wind turbines, who say we do not want the turbines closer than they already are and the health, safety and wellness should be number one concern.

“That’s a trump card we have,” Chairman Dennis Henry said. “I don’t how you’ll get along with NextEra when you talk about distances, but I will tell you that one thing they can’t argue with is health, safety and wellness. I think that is in our favor. This is not being taken lightly, we’re trying and fighting for you.”

The other concern that was brought up was the possibility of zoning and planning in Nemaha County, since the county is not currently zoned, which means that setbacks cannot be regulated by the county. 

In response to the planning and zoning concern, Henry said that the attorney returned earlier this month by Nemaha County — James Neeld, of Sandberg Phoenix and von Gontard P.C. — said the county does not need to be looking at planning and zoning, but rather possible resolutions.

“Zoning is definitely an option, and what we’re investigating is solving this by resolution,” Henry said. “This is what we’re leaning toward, but we’re in the beginnings of all of this. We gave him some more pointers this morning, and he understands where we want to end up.” 

The commissioners will hold a short meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 26. The next meeting will be held Monday, Dec. 31, and Neeld will be present at this meeting.

Ackerman’s Fact Sheet – 8 pages

Ackerman-Facts-1

 

NextEra’s Health Fact Sheet – 1 page

NEER-Health-FactSheet.pd_

 

Nexts Era’s Solider Creek Fact Sheet – 1 page

Soldier-Creek-Fact-Sheet_08-20-18

 

NextEra’s Shadow Flicker Fact Sheet – 3 pages

Shadow-Flicker-Information

 

Heather Stewart258 Posts

Heather Stewart is a reporter for The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2015. She specializes in court and sports reporting, as well as photography. Heather is a 2011 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in psychology. She lives in Sabetha with her husband.

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