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Wind power developers concerned about regs

9/7/2010

By GAYLE WEBER

gweber@dailynews.net

"Why is it that wind companies that actually have developed wind farms don't have a problem with this?"

"This" is a new set of zoning regulations in Ellis County. And Ellis County Commissioner Glenn Diehl made the statement during Monday's commission meeting while defending new zoning regulations that increase setbacks in wind projects. He said after talking with wind developers, he was told the amended regulations would be workable.

"Invenergy said they're ready to go," Diehl said during Monday's meeting.

But now concern is evident among those trying to market and develop wind projects in Ellis County -- including Invenergy -- when they start talking about the newly adopted regulations.

Invenergy project manager Will Furgeson said while he continues to pursue a proposed project in northern Ellis County, the increased setbacks adopted Monday have caused concern about creating a viable project in the county.

"Our major concern at this point is that the playing field doesn't appear to be level anymore," Furgeson said.

Regulations adopted Monday call for setbacks from residences to be 10 times the tip height of a turbine. The setbacks can be waived by individual landowners through the conditional-use permitting process.

As negotiated in a settlement agreement, setbacks in Hays Wind LLC's proposed project southwest of Hays are 2,000 feet from non-participating residences and 1,000 feet from residences participating in the project.

"Those setbacks are not represented in these most recently adopted guidelines," Furgeson said. "I think that the challenge for us now is figuring out how much stock we should hold in these new guidelines since they're different than those being proposed in other parts of the county."

Commissioners adopted the new zoning regulations on a 2-1 vote with Diehl and Commission Chairman Perry Henman voting in favor of the amendments.

"Opposed would be nay. Thank you for asking," Commissioner Dean Haselhorst said Monday after Diehl and Henman cast their votes.

Along with increased setbacks, the amended regulations call for expanded protest petition and notification areas and a standard for noise in wind projects not to exceed 40 decibels.

Mark Bannister, who is marketing the Butterfield Wind project in southwest Ellis County, said the setbacks aren't of great concern to his project because more than 60 landowners are working together to bring wind energy to their area.

"Expansion of protest petition area and lowering the decibel level to 40 decibels could also be significant barriers to wind energy development," Bannister said. "(They are) significantly different than that of other Kansas counties."

Bannister said the process of marketing Butterfield Wind to prospective developers continues, but he said he still is waiting for regulatory certainty from the county.

"There are a number of changes that the commission made in the zoning ordinances that (send) a very strong message that the county commission is in opposition to wind development and does not welcome it in Ellis County," Bannister said.

Furgeson said the new noise regulations "would likely endanger much of the oil and gas development and agricultural operations in the county if they applied to all industries and not just wind."

The proposed Invenergy project, which would stretch from northwest of Hays to north of Ellis, could be built in multiple phases with anywhere from 100 to 400 total megawatts of power, Furgeson said.

He provided input to commissioners throughout the regulation changing process and said he will continue to do so.

"(Until we) get some guidelines on the books that make it a little easier to get a project developed," Furgeson said.

Efforts to contact a TradeWind energy spokesperson were unsuccessful.