Kansas Supreme Court upholds ban on commercial wind farms in scenic Flint Hills

? In a case pitting the beauty of the Flint Hills against large wind farms, the Flint Hills won.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday in favor of a zoning ordinance in Wabaunsee County that prohibits commercial wind farms.

Officials said the high court decision represented the first in the state in which the pursuit of wind energy conflicted with desires for unobstructed views of the countryside.

Kansas is considered one of the top states for wind power potential, but development in the scenic Flint Hills has been discouraged for years. Five years ago, then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius urged restraint on wind development in much of the Flint Hills.

The ordinance, approved by the Wabaunsee Board of County Commissioners, states that the wind farms with towers 120 feet in height or more “would be incompatible with the rural, agricultural, and scenic character of the county.”

The rural county of about 7,000 people is located in the Flint Hills, which contain the majority of remaining Tallgrass Prairie that once covered much of the central United States.

Several landowners, who had entered into contracts for wind farm development, sued the county commissioners, saying the prohibition was unreasonable.

But the Kansas Supreme Court agreed with a lower court finding that the county commissioners’ zoning decision was lawful. The lower court said the board took into consideration the wind farms’ impact upon the aesthetics of the county and the wishes of residents.

The landowners also contended they entered into wind leases prior to the 2004 adoption of the ban and that the county cannot pass a law that interferes with the enforcement of a contract. But the court said land use is heavily regulated and that changes in the law may alter contractual obligations.

The state Supreme Court, however, left open several other issues for further arguments. Those include whether the zoning ordinance represents a “taking” of property rights without just compensation and whether it violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. A second round of oral arguments is scheduled for Jan. 27.