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Wind farm discussion packs county meeting

More than 100 attend to learn more, speak out about their concerns

Staff writer

If county commissioners had voted for a moratorium on wind farms, Pat Pelstring, president and CEO of National Renewable Solution said his company was likely to end work on its proposed Expedition Wind Farm project.

The idea of a second wind farm in the county has met with stiff opposition because of what some consider bad experience with Diamond Vista wind farm being developed in the northern portion of the county. Some county residents earlier called for a moratorium, striking a chord with commissioner Dianne Novak, but at the end of a five-hour meeting Monday and despite Novak sticking to her guns, no moratorium was passed.

More than 100 people packed Marion Community Center to voice support, voice opposition, and learn more about a proposed wind farm in the southern portion of the county.

The county commission meeting was held at the community center to allow space for what commissioners knew would be a large crowd.

Wayzata, Minnesota, based NRS is working to develop a wind farm project originally the idea of Florence resident Rex Savage, who notched the idea forward but not to construction. NRS purchased the former Windborne Energy project in July 2018, renamed it Expedition Wind Farm, and has since met with landowners and county commissioners.

Pelstring talked to the crowd about the project’s status and development plans.

“If I had one wish about this project, I wish we could have started with ground zero,” Pelstring said.

He said about 22,000 acres are incorporated into the plan.

“We’ve gone through most of the process,” Pelstring said. “We’re about to submit our conditional use permit application.”

Pelstring answered comments made in an earlier meeting about Kansas legislators considering a house bill that would have changed wind farm setback requirements. That bill died in committee because legislators decided counties should make those decisions, he said.

Pelstring addressed earlier concerns about health problems, noise and vibration issues, land valuation, stray voltage, and restricted farming practices.

“There is no evidence in those areas,” he said.

He did say he considers those issues legitimate and they should be discussed.

Stray voltage is caused by inadequate or degraded wiring as part of local connections, not the wind turbine, he said.

As to farming practices, many farmers improve productions due to increased assets. Cows, however, are drawn to turbines and fences will need to be put up around the base to keep the cows from gathering there.

Pelstring also answered concerns that crop dusters would refuse to spray around the turbines or charge extra. When NRS contacted crop dusters in the region, they said they would not hesitate to spray into a wind farm.

“They’re aerial acrobats,” Pelstring said.

He also debunked rumors that have gone around about the project.

“We heard our landowners are under a gag order,” Pelstring said. “We’ve brought our leasing documents.”

Rumors that Rex Savage remains involved with the project are not true. Neither is it true that commissioner Randy Dallke has land in the project.

“We have some Dallkes, but no Randy Dallke, so let’s put that to bed right now,” Pelstring said.

The money the project will bring to the county if it proceeds should be considered as well, Pelstring said. NRS estimates the project will bring $53.6 million to the county over 30 years.

Since opponents came forward in February, commissioner Dianne Novak has supported the idea of imposing a moratorium. She stuck to that stance Monday, although Pelstring disagreed.

“If there’s a vote for a moratorium, I’d rather you vote to kill the project,” he said.

Several supporters and opponents stepped to the microphone to talk.

“I’ve got wind generators within a mile of our house,” one opponent said. “When one of those wind towers kicks on, we lose TV service and radio service, and we had to change our cell phones. I’m not against progress, I’m against being lied to by people who blow smoke up your butt.”

His comments were met with applause.

Property owner Byron Lange said working as a bank examiner gave him a good idea of the economy.

“Our county population is declining,” Lange said. “That’s not going to change.”

His property taxes have gone up 20 percent and when he looked at his new appraisal, he knows his taxes will increase again, he said. He added that people shopping out of county give sales tax dollars to other counties. Property taxes will increase to provide needed services, Lange said.

“I haven’t heard anybody say they’re going to volunteer to pay more taxes,” Lange said.

His comments were also met with applause.

After several people spoke for and against the wind farm proposal, the meeting was moved back to the courthouse.

Pelstring said NRS will present a CUP and changes can be made as the permit works through the planning and zoning process.

Novak again contended for a moratorium.

Becker and Dallke voiced no support for a moratorium, and no vote was taken to impose one.

“Expedition’s landowners represent over 90 agreements signed covering nearly 22,000 acres of land, most of whom are the same landowners who live in the project area and work the ground,” Pelstring said in a statement to the newspaper after the meeting. “The commission is doing a great job and we look forward to a process that both allows the project to present the CUP and development plan to them for consideration, and affords the county the necessary time to understand and evaluate the plan.

“We’re pleased with the commission’s decision not to support a moratorium on wind projects in the county, as enacting a moratorium would have been detrimental to the project. Expedition Wind agreed to provide a draft CUP to the county on March 25 for county review.”

County clerk Tina Spencer said the deadline for the company to submit a CUP application is March 28 in order for the planning and zoning commission to review it before its April 25 meeting. The CUP has to be published by April 3, a public hearing held, and the protest period will end May 10. Planning and zoning can submit a CUP approval request on or after May 13.

Last modified March 14, 2019

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