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Protest draws out wind talk

By KALEY LYON

Hays Daily News

For the majority of 2007, a heated county-wide debate regarding a proposed wind generation project blew across Ellis County.

After months of governmental deliberations by the Ellis County Planning and Zoning Commission and the Ellis County Commission, as well as public debate, the conditional permit application was rejected by a 1-2 county commission vote.

Commissioner Perry Henman voted against the project, expressing concern at the current county zoning regulations.

"I've been, in the past, for it with conditions. And I've sort of changed my mind on that," Henman said when the vote was made in September. "I'm pretty much thinking that we need to re-do our zoning rules and regs. They're insufficient."

Commissioners Vernon Berens and Dennis Pfannenstiel, however, both voted in favor of the 11,000 square-acre project.

Pfannenstiel made a motion to accept the project application, provided certain conditions were met, including the provision of a decommissioning agreement, a road maintenance agreement and a setback distance of at least 2,000 feet between turbines and existing residences.

"I think this motion is in the right direction. We will never have a perfect set of regulations," Berens said. "The towers aren't up yet. There are some things we need to do to enter into agreements with. It is up to us to see to it that we implement some of this into our regulations."

Because a protest petition for the project was endorsed by owners of more than 20 percent of the land within 1,000 feet of the affected area, approval would have required a unanimous decision.

Signatures were collected for 43.19 percent of land near the proposed wind farm's perimeter.

Before the commissioners could cast their vote, however, a decision needed to be made by the zoning commission.

The first public hearing for this conditional use zoning application was on March 28, which was postponed until May 23 due to severe weather.

The zoning commission made its decision on June 6 and recommended that the county commission approve the application in a 6-1 vote.

The application was filed by Competitive Power Ventures LLC, which was purchased by Madrid, Spain-based Iberdrola Renewable Energies USA in April, on March 3.

By the time the March public hearing approached, opinions had been formed and a long line of individuals prepared to address the commission.

The debate also fueled many letters to the editor, public forums and various petitions, signs and billboards hoisted throughout the county, even a bet resulting in the measurement of a meteorological tower on the project site.

Several landowners and other citizens opposing the wind development formed the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition last spring, with the Web site www.ellis coalition.blogspot.com.

Opponents have presented a variety of concerns, including county-wide zoning regulations and implementation.

"I think, generally speaking, our issues are two-fold. The first is, do we have the right zoning document in place to protect the people of Ellis County?" said Tim Davis, co-chair of the ECEAC following the county commission's 1-2 vote. "Zoning regs are supposed to be built to support a comprehensive plan ... we don't even have one. Second, the zoning document that we have is woefully inadequate."

Project proponents also have vocalized their concerns and have held public forums of their own. They formed an organization called Ellis County Supporters of Wind, solicited signatures of support and created the Web site www.hayswind.com. Iberdrola also has offered neighbor agreements in the form of 10,000 or 20,000 kilowatt-hours per year to adjacent landowners.

Project manager Krista Gordon said the county commission's no vote didn't mean the end of the project.

"I expect we will progress and we're strategizing right now about the best way to do that," Gordon said after the commission's decision. "Support for the project is still very overwhelming and present in this community. I think right now the community is held captive by a very small minority and I would like to see progress back in the community."

It does appear that the county commission's nay vote will not be the end -- a separate conditional use permit requesting permission to install a third meteorological tower to collect wind data was filed by the company in early November.

Reporter Kaley Lyon can be reached at (785) 628-1081 Ext. 138, or by e-mail at klyon@dailynews.net.