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Archive for Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Wind farm opponents air their concerns

Flint Hills residents don’t want turbines on tallgrass prairie

February 18, 2004

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Don't call them wind farms, say some residents of the Flint Hills.

On Tuesday, a group of ranchers and other Flint Hills residents told the Senate Utilities Committee that concentrations of the giant wind turbines were not farms but industrial sites that could wreck the environmentally sensitive and endangered tallgrass prairie.

And don't say wind is a "green" source of energy. The only green being made, they said, is in the form of money that wind power developers reap in tax breaks and incentives.

"When those machines meet the tallgrass prairie, it's the tallgrass prairie that loses," said Patrick Hughes of Leon, who leads a group of ranchers fighting wind power developers.

Hughes said the Flint Hills, a 12-county area that bisects the state from north to south and includes Manhattan, Emporia and El Dorado, has become ground zero in the war between preservationists and wind farm developers.

Home of the largest expanse of tallgrass prairie in the world, the Flint Hills also experience consistently high winds that make wind generation appealing.

But Hughes and others said poking groups of giant, noisy wind turbines into the Flint Hills would destroy the environment and the landscape and wreck the tranquil quality of the area.

They asked the Legislature to adopt a bill that would force wind power developers to go through a rigorous application process before they could build. One lawmaker said the requirements were so onerous, the bill would amount to a moratorium.

When ranchers complained of tax breaks given for wind power, committee Chairman Stan Clark, R-Oakley, asked the ranchers whether they were willing to give up their property tax exemptions on cattle and farm machinery.

Sen. Robert Tyson, R-Parker, however, said tax breaks for cattle and tax breaks for wind power were two different things. Raising cattle in the Flint Hills was more in line with what the land would sustain, he said.

No supporters of wind energy spoke at the meeting, but many farmers and ranchers in Kansas have shown an interest in leasing property to energy companies for wind power units. Proponents of wind energy have said it is a way to reduce pollution and provide income to landowners.

Clark said the meeting was simply an informational briefing, and that it may be awhile before lawmakers work on the measure, which is Senate Bill 455.

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