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opinion: Kiowa County Commissions should restore longer setback distances for wind turbines

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Mike Splitter

To all concerned,

In consideration of the May 25th BOCC wind turbine setback meeting and statements that were made by me and others, I felt it would be helpful to review the previous meeting’s video from May 11th. In doing so, several things caught my attention. I would like to mention them and offer comment for consideration:

1. The Developer presented 2 maps. The first map represented the project’s developable acres per standards the Developer had been using since the initiation of their planning. The second map represented a supposed loss of developable acres if they were required to hold to the setbacks proposed by Planning and Zoning. This second map did not reflect the exemption of setback requirements on contiguous participating acres or inclusion of a waiver option that had already been granted by the Commissioners. Therefore, the maps were a source of misunderstanding/confusion for the meeting’s attendants and potentially, for all residents of Kiowa County. The confusion was demonstrated in the meeting when a Kiowa County resident approached the podium with a series of questions to bring clarity to maps and the misrepresentation. It was my contention in the May 25th meeting that the Developer should have foreseen this potential misunderstanding and been prepared with a careful explanation of the maps. I raised a question about motives behind that failure. While I still hold to the presentation being weak, unclear, and a major oversight by the Developer, I am confident after reviewing the video that it was not an intentional attempt to deceive or leave the public uninformed.

2. The Planning and Zoning proposed setbacks at the time of the May 11th meeting were as follows:

    * 1 mile from towns

    * .5 mile from residences

    * 1.2 tip height from boundaries

The Developer’s comments regarding these proposed setbacks included the words “I am content”, “workable”, and “we will build tight”, clearly communicating that these setbacks did not risk the security of the project.

3. Based on conversations with landowners and the Developer, I believe some landowners have a misconception about their ability to “negotiate” details of a lease. By signing a lease, they have in essence given up the right of quantity and placement to the Developer. (If negotiating the number and location of turbines were within the parameters of the lease, the Developer would have no basis for planning, and potential energy buyers, such as Xcel, would have no confidence in project production or security.)  Any “negotiation” is likely to only involve an option of a small variance, maybe a few hundred feet from the Developer’s planned placement but not thousands of feet, or the elimination of a tower for the landowner to keep a desirable distance from his home or to honor a neighbor’s similar request. Because of their signed lease, the participating landowner’s only remaining option would then be litigation, though most likely not viable.

4. In the meeting, the issue of property value was also raised. While some contend that turbines on non-residential or farmland may increase the value of those acreages, the opposite is also true for a parcel of land involving a county resident’s home. Most if not all potential home buyers, given the choice, would opt to buy a home with a greater distance than a lesser distance from a wind turbine, such as a mile rather than the Commissioner’s most recent proposal. The buyer’s decision would be based on the very reasons/concerns expressed in the May 25th meeting (i.e. noise, shadow flicker, potential turbine failure, fire, or ice shed, etc.) A short setback will most likely leave the homeowner without the ability to sell at a price to recover the cost of developing a property/home let alone turn a net profit. The result of holding short setbacks will be a financial net gain for a limited number of participating Kiowa County residents and potentially, a financially catastrophic loss for others. It seems reasonable that longer setbacks will help offset this imbalance. Both the participating and non-participating landowner will benefit, though maybe not to the degree either would consider ideal.

My intent for being on the May 25th meeting agenda was to give voice to some of the legitimate safety and health concerns that a growing number of Kiowa County residents hold concerning this proposed wind development and the setbacks. These concerns are not arbitrary preferences, such as not wanting towers to be visible or heard at all, but rather real measurable risks to the safety and well-being of these people. The Developer is working from a business model that does not totally disregard public safety but reaches a point where their decisions are based on their company’s financial liability risk, rather than maximizing the safety and well-being interests of those who will be living within the area and footprint of the project. It is the duty of county government and its elected officials to take up the issue of safety and well-being on behalf of their constituents and set standards and restrictions that prevent the Developer from negatively impacting the health, safety, and quality of life enjoyed  here in Kiowa County. The effects of this 30 to 50 year wind project to our county, communities, and individuals will be irreversible once the turbines are constructed; therefore the seemingly small decision of setback distance obligates thought, caution, and consideration beyond perceived immediate gain. The current setback proposal places little to no restrictions to alleviate the legitimate health and safety concerns held by a number of Kiowa County residents. It seems obvious that with the adoption of this proposal the Developer will be left to “regulate” itself, leaving this resident of Kiowa County and a growing number of others, even including some participating landowners, feeling very vulnerable and with no options other than litigation to protect themselves.

In consideration of the interests and concerns of Kiowa County residents, I respectfully request that the Commissioners revise the current setback proposal to include the following:

1.  A return to the longer setback distances recommended by Planning and Zoning. This will provide a measure of protection for both participating and nonparticipating landowners with concerns. Landowners willing to take the risks involved with shorter setbacks and/or wanting a neighboring landowner to have the possibility of turbines will be served well with the waiver option.

2.  Measurable standards/restrictions on noise and shadow flicker. This will provide guidance to the Developer and give the County and its residents a means of evaluating, mitigating, and if necessary, litigating issues with the development, construction, and operation of this long term project.


Mike Splitter