By Sam Jack
Engie North America, the U.S. subsidiary of a multinational energy company, is pursuing a wind farm project near Conway Springs.
According to Owen Watson, a development associate with the company, the wind farm that Engie is planning would be located south of Milton and “west and slightly southwest” of Conway Springs.
If built, it would include 70 to 80 wind turbines and would have a capacity of 200 megawatts.
“We have a land (acquisition) effort ongoing in the area and have had success,” Watson said. “At this point, the project is at an early stage, and we’re just trying to assess willingness in the community. Obviously, if you sign an easement with us, you’re willing to participate in the project.”
Last Wednesday at the Raymond Frye Complex in Wellington, Watson spoke to the Sumner County Planning Commission, requesting approval to build two meteorological towers (met towers) in order to measure wind speeds.
One met tower, located a mile southwest of Milton near 110th Avenue and Blackstone Road, was approved on a unanimous vote.
When the second met tower – about two miles southwest of Conway Springs, on the east side of Milan Road between 70th and 80th avenues – came before the planning commission, several members questioned its proximity to residential housing.
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Aug. 23 print edition of the Star-Argosy. To see stories like this sooner, and to get all your community news, sign up for home delivery. Call 316-540-0500 to start your subscription.
“I counted 23 homes within a mile of the test tower,” said commission member Randy Andra. “There’s no need to test there, because this is not an area for future wind farm development.”
Commission member Larry Long asked to table the second met tower application until the next planning commission meeting so that the commission could get more information “about why this part of the county is so attractive” for wind farm development, but the motion to table failed on a 5-4 vote.
A motion to deny the application also failed on a 5-4 vote. The five commissioners who formed a majority on those two votes noted that the application was for a met tower, not a full wind farm, making consideration of the impact of a larger project untimely.
They also expressed concern that approving one met tower application and then denying a second, nearly identical, application could be seen as capricious.
But thanks to a mistake during the meeting, the second met tower will not yet advance to the final step of the conditional use permit process, approval by the Sumner County Commission. While the vote to deny the application failed, the planning commission did not proceed to an affirmative vote in favor of approval.
That means that the case will be on the planning commission’s agenda again when they next meet, Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m. The met tower near Milton will be considered by the Sumner County Commission on Sept. 17 at 10 a.m.
Those voting in favor of the motions to table and deny the second met tower were: Randy Andra, Alva Cook, Steve Lange and Larry Long. Those opposed were: David Bangle, Glennis Zimmerman, Bruce Weber, Daryl Yearout and Amy Shoffner.
A handful of people who live near the proposed met towers rose to speak in opposition to a wind farm.
“A wind tower is nothing but an indicator of a possible wind farm,” said Tim Downs, who lives near 90th Avenue south of Milton. “Had I known, I would not have developed this property.”
Paul Hartman, who lives adjacent to the site where the met tower near Conway Springs is proposed to be built, said there are many reasons he opposes a wind farm, but his top concern is that it could “crush the economy” of Conway Springs.
“The wind farms go up, I feel like that will drive people away. People aren’t going to come out here and build new, expensive homes when their back yard is full of wind turbines,” he said after the meeting. “And it’ll devalue their property. That’s going to drive people away, and when you drive people away, the taxes start boosting up. … What do you think that’s going to do for Conway Springs and Sumner County as a whole? I think (wind turbines) will be a good stimulant up front, with cash flow going, but what’s the long-term effect?”
Owen Watson of Engie said after the meeting that a study has shown that wind turbines do not negatively impact property values.
“All in all, my understanding is that that’s not the case,” he said. “There’s definitely impacts from noise if you site wind turbines too close to residences, but Engie has a better-than-industry-average internal setback that we go by, of 1,500 meters. Noise and shadow impacts from the wind turbines are analyzed by third-party consultants…and they use very conservative assumptions in the studies. It’s not something that we take lightly.”
Watson said that putting two turbines on a quarter section takes just 2 to 3 percent of the land on that quarter section out of agricultural production. He also said that Engie routinely signs road maintenance agreements with local governments.
“We do a pre- and post-construction survey, and do a video. We document the condition of the roads before we do anything, and then we leave it at least in the condition, if not better, of when we arrived,” he said.
As to why Engie is looking to the north part of the county, Watson said that wind speeds and utility infrastructure are the main factors.
“When this project was first sited, I think it was just a function of the fact that there’s a substation right there,” he said. “Generally, when you’re siting an energy project, you try and site it within the vicinity of the substation you’re trying to interconnect, because then you can avoid putting long transmission lines from your project to the substation. I’d say that’s a big reason, as well as just it’s a fairly windy part of the county.”