FRCO Commissioners scuttle wind research tower request

Sabrina Meador of Pomona urges Franklin County Commissioners to deny the MET tower application.

OTTAWA, Kan. – Franklin County Commissioners on Wednesday denied a special use permit application for a wind research tower by NextEra Energy, sending a strong signal that Franklin County government isn’t receptive to a commercial wind project.

The move echoes recent decisions in other East Central Kansas counties – Anderson, Osage, and Linn in particular – which effectively have created a multi-county ‘dead zone’ for wind energy in the region.

         Commissioners Don Stottlemire, Rod Harris, Roy Dunn and Colton Waymire voted unanimously to support a county planning commission recommendation to deny the permit, which would have built a 197-foot wind data collection tower on private property in northwest Franklin County. Commission chairman Ianne Dickinson was not present at Wednesday’s meeting.

         The move places Franklin County at odds with Douglas County, where a NextEra project under development would cross county lines and envelope tens of thousands of acres in southwest Douglas and northwest Franklin counties. NextEra has been looking at a rural Douglas County project since 2013 and has placed a number of research towers there with the approval of Douglas County commissioners and planning board officials. Those both forand against wind energy gave their opinions at a meeting January 30 of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission called to draft new wind energy zoning regulations subsequent to new regulations governing solar installations in the county.

Wind turbine field locations in Kansas. Wichita Eagle photo

Members of the public who spoke at Wednesday’s Franklin County meeting said some of their neighbors had already signed tentative lease agreements with NextEra to site wind turbines on their properties.

        About 20 individuals delivered comments at Wednesdays Franklin County Commission meeting, all but a handful opposing the approval of the research tower and speaking against the development of a local wind farm and wind energy in general for its impact on the landscape, possible health issues, wildlife impact and effect on nearby home values.

         “You need to represent the majority of the county,” said Diane Carl of Ottawa. “I don’t want them in the landscape. Franklin County is too beautiful.”

         Kevin Evans said he was concerned about the impact on home values if a wind farm resulted in a drop in nearby home sale prices. 

         “We’ve all got to stare at them. We’ve all got to listen to them,” he told the commission.

         Not all the comments were in opposition to the tower and wind energy, however. Dave Judd of Judd Ranch told commissioners individual land owners should still have rights to determine what they do on their own properties, and that commissioners owed it to them to protect those private rights.

Emporia Gazette photo

         The debate over wind farms has raged across rural Kansas for more than a decade now, pitting opponents who say the projects amount to little more than government pork barrel inefficiency and a blight to the skyline against others who say payments from tower leases allow them a revenue source and the ability to survive in their farming and ranching operations.

         The Franklin County decision followed several other wind project denials in the area. Anderson County Commissioners enacted preventative zoning restrictions in 2015 to stop a wind project in the eastern area of the county. Linn County two years ago enacted a moratorium against the projects. Osage County Commissioners in October voted to adopt a policy forbidding wind or other alternate energy projects in the midst of a project proposed near Burlingame. Opponents are also fighting a project under development in Harvey County.

         NextEra officials had not responded by press time Monday in regard to whether the Franklin County move would halt the Franklin/Douglas county project. For now at least, Franklin County officials seem to have their minds made up.

         “It doesn’t seem like its going to help Franklin County at all,” said commissioner Roy Dunn in making the motion denying the tower project. “It’s just for private industry help.”