Planning board OKs wind farm

Staff writer

Marion County Planning Commission voted Monday to recommend approval for a wind farm south of Marion.

Rex Savage of Windborne Energy, of rural Florence, has applied for a conditional use permit for a wind farm of up to 79 turbines in an area bounded by 140th and Pawnee roads and U.S. highways 50 and 77.

Planning and Zoning Director Tonya Richards will present the Planning Commission’s recommendation Nov. 22 to Marion County Commission. The timeline for construction isn’t resolved yet.

Savage reviewed the company’s plans to meet the county’s permit requirements, including setbacks from roads, homes, and farm structures; protecting native plants and animals; mitigating noise and glare; avoiding interfering with radio and television reception; and posting bonds for road repair after construction and turbine removal when the project is obsolete.

Planning Commission opened the hearing to public comments. Dave Tharp, 1219 Quail Creek Road, Peabody, said the project would be a good revenue stream, especially for a young farmer like himself, at a time when farmers are working to stretch their revenue as much as they can. Clifford Hett, 1080 Sunflower Road, Peabody, expressed similar sentiments.

Janice Waner, 2060 110th Road, Peabody, said she thought the project would be beneficial to people in the county, although she admitted to having a financial interest in the project, being a property owner in the area.

The project could be a good educational opportunity for area students, USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker said.

Nobody from the public spoke against the proposal.

The turbines would not greatly change the county property tax base, Planning Commission consultant David Yearout said. Kansas is one of two states that exempt wind energy turbines from property tax. Every wind farm in Kansas has agreed to make community contributions to affected governing bodies. All of those agreements have been honored so far, but governments have no recourse if they aren’t, Yearout said.

A control and maintenance center would be built, probably in Peabody or Florence, Savage said. The project would create 15 to 18 permanent, full-time jobs locally, and the control center would be taxable.

Richards said Savage had turned in all necessary documents, and she recommended Planning Commission approve the application with a few conditions. She wanted the approval to include requirements that the company pay for inspections of the towers, that aviation lights be intermittent red lights, and that a timeframe be determined for the turbines to be decommissioned in the event the company ceases operations.

Savage’s application is the first wind farm application in the county. Savage said he would be open to the idea of further wind energy development in the county if the project succeeds.

If built to its maximum scope, the project would have a capacity of 200 megawatts, but wind farms generally produce electricity at about 40 percent capacity, Savage said. That means the project could produce about 80 megawatts of electricity.

As a comparison, the peak electrical use in the city of Hillsboro so far in 2010 was not quite 8 megawatts on Aug. 13.

There are nine existing wind farms in Kansas with a combined capacity of a little more than 1,000 megawatts. The first, built in 2001 in Gray County, has a capacity of 112 megawatts, according to http://www.kansasenergy.org.

The largest wind farm is in the Smoky Hills in Ellsworth and Lincoln counties, with a capacity of about 251 megawatts.

 

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