Editorial: Policy needed

County officials need to be ready for the new wind-power proposals that almost certainly will come their way.

Lawrence Journal-World opinion section

It’s good the Douglas County Commission is talking again about how to regulate the installation of wind turbines in the rural parts of the county.

The commission placed a moratorium on new wind energy systems in December 2013 when it discovered it didn’t have the right regulations in place to handle a Florida company’s request to install two meteorological towers to measure wind speeds in southwest Douglas County. Although there hasn’t been much pressure from potential wind energy developers since the moratorium was implemented, new proposals are bound to come and the county needs to be ready for them.

It’s also reasonable for the commission to take some extra time to gather public input on the county’s wind energy policies. The installation of smaller generators for personal and small commercial use as well as larger wind generating developments may be a positive for the county, but regulations are necessary to make sure the location and scale of those installations are appropriate.

One question that commissioners asked at their Wednesday meeting was what kind of economic benefit the county might reap from commercial wind developments. Although other counties have negotiated payments-in-lieu-of-taxes with wind developers, county staff members warned that such payment might be seen as a form of bribe. Nonetheless, Commissioner Jim Flory said he would want to make sure the county benefited financially from such projects. “If I was ever to vote for one of these monstrosities, which I don’t think I’ll have to, I would want the county to get significant revenue,” he said.

Flory has announced he won’t seek re-election in November so it does seem unlikely that he’ll face a vote on a major wind development before leaving office, but his portrayal of wind generators as “monstrosities” was a little disappointing. Modern wind turbines may not have the same bucolic charm as old-fashioned windmills, but some people find them somewhat majestic. Their ability to generate clean energy from one of the state’s most abundant natural resources is a major selling point for many Kansans, as are the financial benefits to property owners where wind farms are developed.

The company that sought the wind-measuring towers in 2013 has said it still has an interest in exploring the potential for a development in Douglas County, so this issue isn’t going away. The moratorium has been in place long enough. It’s time to move forward on a reasonable policy to accommodate wind power development in the county.