County allows wind energy company to apply for construction of two meteorological towers

The Douglas County Commission will allow NextEra Energy Resources, the largest wind energy developer in the United States, to proceed in the application process to erect two meteorological towers in the countryside to study the area’s wind patterns.

In December, the commission placed a moratorium on wind farm projects until it had time to draft regulations on their development. But at the commission’s Wednesday meeting, the panel ruled the meteorological towers did not fall under the moratorium and allowed the application process for a conditional use permit to continue.

Meanwhile, the moratorium on wind farms remains in place and is currently set to expire April 30.

At the meeting, Noah Hyte, project developer for NextEra, said the electricity supplier has its eye on an area south of U.S. Highway 56 and west of U.S. Highway 59 as a potential site for a wind farm. But the investigation into its feasibility is in a “very, very early stage.”

He said the two meteorological towers, standing approximately 196 feet, would be used to study wind patterns for at least one year and up to five.

NextEra, which operates three wind farms in southwestern Kansas, is interested in coming to Douglas County in part because of its proximity to several larger population hubs, Hyte said. Electricity generated from such a farm could be sold at a cheaper cost to cities like Lawrence or Kansas City, according to Hyte.

As far as the community’s reception to the idea of a wind farm in its county, Commissioner Jim Flory, whose third district encases the potential farm site, warned NextEra’s representatives that his district does not appear to be enthusiastic. Mike Gaughan, first district, indicated his district appeared to be the opposite.

In other business Wednesday, the commissioners:

• Approved the $28,000 purchase of LED lights for the Douglas County Jail parking lot. The lights are estimated to save about $4,400 in energy costs per year. The money used to purchase the lights will come from the county’s Sustainability Fund.

• Allowed the Douglas County Public Works department to apply to participate in solar panel project with Westar Energy.