No decision made regarding wind farm term sheet

No decision was made regarding the term sheet for the proposed Soldier Creek Wind Farm in southern Nemaha County during the Monday morning, April 29, meeting of the Nemaha County Commission. This comes following two public hearings, which were held in order to give citizens a chance to offer their input regarding the project, and an executive session.

“No action was taken following the executive session,” Chairman Gary Scoby said. “We are still reviewing the public discussion from last week and are still in negotiations with NextEra Energy. We need time to process everything.”

Cindy Brack of Seneca – who spoke at the first meeting but was unable to speak at the second hearing – said she wanted to see the county push back more on some of the terms in the term sheet.

“There are no people impacted between 2,000 and 2,500 feet, but the term sheet went with the lower number,” she said. “I don’t feel like that is a good representation of our county doing what is best for the county. I would like to see more push back on things like that, where it shouldn’t matter to either party. I don’t like to see us giving in.”

“Point taken,” Commissioner Dennis Henry said. “But again we have to negotiate an adequate deal for Nemaha County.”

Brack requested that when the commissioners decide on something, they explain the “why” behind the decision.

“It’s probably not possible, but when something is decided on, it would be really helpful – in an accountability and openness way – if you guys could share why you were comfortable with voting on the various items.”

“When it comes down to that, we will,” Henry said.

Commissioners also said they appreciated everyone who came to speak at the public hearings, even though everyone didn’t get a chance to speak.

“If there is someone on that list that did not get to speak, we would entertain them right here assuming they would get on the agenda,” Scoby said.

The commissioners will meet at 9 a.m. Monday, May 6. The commissioners plan to have an executive session with their hired wind farm attorney, James Neeld, before opening the meeting up for public discussion.

Second Public Hearing

The second of two public hearings for the proposed Soldier Creek Wind Farm was held Thursday, April 25, at the Nemaha County Community Building.

Chairman Scoby opened the meeting at 6 p.m. for public discussion. Also present for the discussion were Commissioners Tim Burdiek and Dennis Henry, James Neeld and his assistant, Nemaha County Attorney Brad Lippert, Nemaha County Clerk Mary Kay Schultejans and Deanne Koch.

Scoby reminded those present that the commissioners were there to listen to public input and not to field questions regarding the Soldier Creek Wind Farm project that has been proposed by NextEra Energy Resources.

Neeld started the meeting off by addressing the crowd regarding statements he had heard at the first public hearing on Monday, April 22.

“Currently, the county is an unzoned county,” Neeld said. “What that means is that the commissioners have limited rights on what they can do to regulate industries that want to come into the county. Those rights in unzoned counties revolve around the commissioners and the county’s police powers, which includes protecting the health, safety and wellness of its citizens. So the things they can regulate revolve around that. Those items include setbacks, sound, safety distances, and road use agreements.”

Neeld also pointed out that there are differences between the term sheet and the contract.

“The idea with the term sheet was to hit some important points and does not contain everything that will be included in the contract,” he said. “But we tried to hit some of the big items on the head, and in some instances we were successful, but as we have seen I missed the mark on a few things, and that is the purpose of these meetings.”

Neeld discussed his perspective regarding a few points that were brought up at the first public hearing on Monday, April 22. Those items included setbacks, decommissioning, sound levels and where the measurement is taken, site plan, advertising and the complaint process.

Neeld also mentioned again that the commissioners have the right to approve or disapprove the site plan once the exact locations have been determined.

Eighty-one out of the more than 200 people in attendance signed up to speak initially at the public hearing, but only 60 people were able to speak due to the four-hour time limit that was put on the meeting.

Included in those 81 speakers, six representatives from NextEra spoke on behalf of the project. Those representatives were Spencer Jenkins, Mark Trumbauer, Richard Lampeter, Karen Brownlee, Kim Austin and Mike Murray. Each representative presented on a different aspect concerning wind turbines.

Jenkins presented four documents to commissioners. The first was a letter from Vestas – a wind farm manufacturer – which called out the opposition, who claim for extreme setbacks, saying those outdated specifications should not be used to site wind turbines.

The second document Jenkins provided was GE’s – a wind farm manufacturer – technical documentation for setback considerations for wind turbines. According to Jenkins, this document walks through falling objects, tower collapse, ice shedding and ice throw, and blade failure.

“You will notice that the greatest setback distance listed is 1.1 times the tip height,” Jenkins said. “In this scenario, where we have proposed turbines that are 499 feet, that is 548.9 feet from the property line. Please note the term sheet is 600 feet from the property line. The setback distances that have been proposed to you by members of the opposition is misinformation that has been either provided intentionally or because they just don’t know. I honestly think it is a little bit of both. I would also like to address that these proposed setbacks are nothing more than an effort to stop the project.”

The third document provided is a study from a source that is closer to Kansas. The fourth document is from an individual appraiser, who studied 23 different counties in Kansas that have wind farms.

“There are 24 counties in Kansas that have wind farms,” Jenkins said. “Every single county did not have adjustments because of turbine placements. The truth is that the study that has been done here in the state, there have not been property value impacts.”

Trumbauer said the Soldier Creek project includes more than 100 families, and represents 54,000 acres. The total project area is about 85,000 acres. He also stated that local hardware stores, restaurants and local hotels benefit from this project.

Lampeter discussed shadow flicker and sound levels, saying that the levels in the term sheet are similar to what they have seen with other projects. He also said that these wind turbines and standard wind turbines in the industry now do not spin fast enough to trigger epileptic seizures.

“When sited properly, wind turbines do not cause adverse health effects,” Lampeter said.

Brownlee said it was “startling” to hear the comments on infrasound.

“I just don’t think it is possible that these sounds we can’t even hear are really penetrating homes and causing bodily harm,” We have had commercial wind farms in Kansas since 2001 and we do not have reported health problems.”

Brownlee also said that reputable sources have found that wind turbines do not cause a risk to human health but they do cause annoyance.

“I think that is the issue and it is difficult to embrace change,” Brownlee said.

Austin discussed the environmental studies that NextEra does, and about the multiple agencies they work with to ensure they are being environmentally friendly.

As for Nemaha County citizens, there were nine speaking in favor of the project and 45 speaking in opposition of the project, which will surround the communities of Corning and Goff. Below are some of the statements and points that were made from both sides in regards to the project.

In Favor

• I think in our community it will be an asset. I think the positives outweigh the negatives. – Louis Boekman

• Much of the wealth in Nemaha County is concentrated in Seneca, Sabetha and north of U.S. Highway 36. We in the southern part of the county would like to have some chance at wealth also. Commodity prices are not good currently, and it is very difficult to make a profit at those prices. – James Dobbins

• Property taxes on my current 160 acres have increased almost four times in the last 10 years. How much longer can our taxes go up? – Kenny Keegan

• We support the wind farm development, because we support renewable energy development. We are at a pivotal point to transition to clean energy. We also support it because it offers a new stream of revenue at a time when most rural counties and communities are struggling. It also offers farmers and landowners revenue just as the farm economy is entering the third or fourth year of commodity prices below the cost of production. I do support some of the positions and opinions of those against this project though. – Mary Fund

• If we are really thinking about people’s welfare and well being in these rural communities, we should also look at how farmers have to deal with their own debts and how they have to deal with tackling those debts. We need to look at the mental health that goes along with that. Suicide rates with farmers have increased substantially in the past 15 years. – Cleotha Daniels

• We need more wind turbines. God made the wind to make the wind turbines turn. – Mark McLaughlin

• I believe the health hazards we encounter daily can out run the health hazards of the wind turbines. – Karley McLaughlin

• Farmers do not have a retirement plan. We have to put it together ourselves and farmers need the extra income. – Jerry McLaughlin

Not in Favor

• The energy it takes to build the turbines, transport them to the site, maintain them and make the roads to get to them will never pay for itself. Why would I buy something that won’t pay for itself? – LaVerne Orton

• What is going to be the true impact to the wildlife? If it would cause one person harm, is it worth it? – Barry Lamb

• If we can’t stop these windmills, using NextEra’s own 1,312 foot radius hardhat zone, why are we even considering anything less than that for property setback? I request to take action to confirm the 3,000 feet to residences and 1,500 feet to property line setbacks. – Doug Renyer

• A study in Denmark shows that wind turbines cause problems to the ovaries of women of reproductive age. – Dana Kramer

• I believe we made one bad decision by changing the 2012 resolution without much public input, and I believe accepting the existing terms of the term sheet would be a second bad decision. Let’s not make the same mistake twice. – Darryl Becker

• With this term sheet, we are allowing NextEra to write their own purchase agreement and to pay what they want as a contribution to the Nemaha County. I have a problem NextEra taking advantage of the tax breaks. We should expect a fair and reasonable payment on this project. – Galen Niehues

• According to a study, infrasound can cause vascular damage and brain damage. – Milinda Spferslage

• The words health, safety and wellness currently cease to exist and the term sheet does not reflect the purpose of the commissioners at all. – Brandon Edelman

• As a co-owner of Heinen Brothers Aerial Ag Service and with the onset of this wind farm, there is a great potential that we will have turn down some of the farmers and ranchers that we have worked for 25 years, due to the proximity of wind turbines to their properties. – Glen Heinen

• I believe this term sheet sets a precedent for wind companies in the future. We need more independent studies to understand how wind turbines can effect our long term health. – Blake Bennett

• The issues we are facing are not confined to this footprint. They are not about renewable energy or the cost of electricity. This is about neighborliness, property rights and putting people before profit. – Sophia Bennett

• There are 1,300 people who will support the commissioners if NextEra threatens a lawsuit. – Ginny Pfrang

• NextEra has suggested that we are un-American for wanting bigger setbacks. I believe they are un-American for the amount of money they want and how they are dividing Nemaha County residents. – Frank Niehues

• The lack of tower height restrictions in the term sheet is alarming. – Ryan Broxterman

• In all my years of working, I have seen LifeStar take off many times. But what happens when those 500 foot wind turbines are placed in rural Nemaha County and that transport cannot get to our rural areas where an accident has occurred? This means you are talking life and death. – Beth Niehues

• I am not in favor of any wind turbines at all but if we do accept this project, I think we need to have the original setbacks of 3,000 feet from homes and 1,500 feet from property lines. – Carol Lueger

• One of my concerns is the link of cancer due to infrasound. Industrial wind turbines generate substantial low frequency noise or infrasound. – Kari Holthaus

• If they do not know where the turbines are being placed, then how do they know that there are 12 homes that will be impacted? NextEra should be pushed to the original footprint and taxed accordingly. – Marci Koch

Most of those who signed up to speak but were unable to speak due to time constraints left their written testimonies with the County Clerk.

If you are interested in listening to the full audio recordings of either meeting or seeing the sign up sheet from either meeting, please email us at news@sabethaherald.com and we can provide these items for you.

Heather Stewart182 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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