Dozens more wind turbines may sprout

Planners endorse up to 20 additional generators adjacent to forthcoming wind farm

Staff writer

Marion County Planning Commission recommended approving a second application for a commercial wind turbine project west of Florence, despite the protestations of one passionate opponent Thursday night.

Rex Savage of rural Florence is seeking a conditional use permit for his Doyle North 2 project, which would be adjacent to the Doyle North 1 project the county approved a CUP for in November 2010. The proposed project is mostly west and southwest of the existing project.

The area of the second project is suitable for probably no more than 20 turbines, Savage said after the meeting. If each turbine was built at the peak of current capabilities, the project could potentially generate 60 megawatts of electricity.

Both proposed projects are within the bounds of a wind energy overlay district established by the county, bounded by Sunflower Road on the east, Pawnee Road on the west, 130th Road on the north, and 90th Road on the south.

Savage had already addressed the county’s regulations on wind farms in his previous application, but the commission reviewed the regulations and Savage’s plans for the new project.

The county’s regulations require addressing the visual effects of wind turbines. Savage said that there is only so much that mitigation can accomplish.

“If they get built, you will see them,” Savage said.

Another concern is noise. Savage said that in the past decade, improvements in turbine design have greatly reduced the amount of noise they generate. The sound of modern turbines is about 65 decibels at the base of the tower and declines quickly as you move away from the tower. For comparison, 60 decibels is within the volume range of normal conversation.

Studies suggest a wind farm in the proposed area would have no significant impact on wildlife.

“If you can’t build windmills here, let’s just give up and burn coal,” Savage said, quoting one of the experts who studied the issue.

He said he anticipates having agreements with the county regarding bonds to guarantee repair of roads damaged during construction, bonds guaranteeing removal of the turbines when the project is decommissioned, provisions for equipment and training for high-angle rescues, and payment in lieu of taxes, because Kansas exempts wind turbines from property tax.

Savage said both projects are under contract, but said he couldn’t say any more in public because of non-disclosure agreements.

County Planning and Zoning Director Tonya Richards recommended including the same conditions for approval as the first project.

David Yearout, consultant to the planning commission, said developments in western Kansas have encountered problems digging trenches for underground wires. The problems arose because there are many abandoned oil lines in the ground remaining from oil exploration and production. Neither of Savage’s projects is likely to have such problems, he said.

The meeting was then opened to comments from the public. Although the planning commission initially proposed limiting comments to three minutes each, Nick Peters of rural Marion was granted 15 minutes.

He said he and his wife, Laurie, moved to their home south of Marion three years ago for the view of the Catlin Creek valley.

“We didn’t move here to live in an industrial park,” Peters said. “I want what I paid for. I want what I worked hard for years to get.”

Peters outlined his concerns about how turbines would affect the view, create noise, damage bird and bat populations, and lower property values.

“You have no idea how worried I’ve been about this all day,” he said. “I told my wife I thought I was going to throw up.”

Peters requested more time to rally others opposed to the project before the planning commission made its decision.

The planning commission voted to recommend approval by the county commission. The county commission will hear the recommendation at 10 a.m. Oct. 10, giving Peters about two weeks to rally supporters.

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