After a series of laws ostensibly intended to halt wind energy development, Kansas senators are considering a bill that could appease rural neighbors annoyed by turbines.
For years, the Kansas plains have been among the largest sources of wind energy in the United States. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have lauded the wind development in Kansas.
But this one came with a backlash.
“The night sky surrounding the town where I live has been clouded forever,” said Jonathan Sill, who lives near a wind farm in Marshall County.
Over the past two years, Sill and other rural residents have appeared en masse on Capitol Hill to testify for bills that would give them more power over the siting of wind farms, even when the turbines are on their neighbors’ property.
“That would be one thing that I’ve heard from different constituents is sleep disruption, headaches, issues with some animals being … restless,” said Sen. Virgil Peck, R-Havana.
Other past legislation would have required turbines to be so far from property lines that industry representatives said it would have been nearly impossible to find acceptable locations. The bills would also have limited the noise and flickering of the shadows so severely that projects already in operation could be shut down.
But now senators are considering legislation that would require wind farms to limit the red lights atop turbines that flash to alert planes of their presence. On the flat plains of Kansas, the eerie synchronized lights can be seen for miles.
David Fisher, a retired entrepreneur, said he was tired of seeing flashing red lights near his Centerville home.
“I want to protect my family from having to live with these,” Fisher told the Senate Utilities Committee Wednesday. “In our beautiful state of Kansas, there are 3,500 red lights above wind turbines blinking uselessly, lighting up our dark sky.”
The senators are considering two pieces of legislation: one that would require existing wind farms to get technology that detects aircraft and turns on flashing red lights only when one is nearby, and one that would require the same for new wind farms. In the case of both bills, the requirement goes into effect if the Federal Aviation Administration approves the wind farm developer’s plan.
Senate Utilities Committee members heard testimony on the legislation Wednesday and Thursday, and the chairman, Sen. Robert Olson, R-Olathe, said members will likely vote next week.
Unlike previous legislation, the two bills the senators are considering have the support of wind industry insiders.
Kimberly Gencur Svaty said members of the Kansas Advanced Power Alliance, which she represents as a lobbyist, support legislation requiring light-mitigating technology in future wind farms. Two wind farms under construction will now use the technology.
Gencur Svaty was concerned about the bill requiring existing wind farms to install the technology. He said that the legislature has typically been “slow to compel industries … to retroactively incur a cost for their investment,” with which he agrees.
“But you find us here today in general support for this bill, even if it means that over time, the renewable energy industry, the clean energy industry, would essentially be on the hook for millions and millions and millions dollars of new costs,” he said.
Gencur Svaty has called for the bill not to take effect until 2025 to give the industry time to implement the technology. He said only two companies provide it.
“Kansas is by far the largest wind state to pass light-mitigation technology retroactivity in the United States,” he said.
If Kansas passes the legislation, he said, other states could quickly follow.
“So what happens when a glut of states pass that legislation and you have a whole slew of new projects…that need to install light-mitigating technology as well as a litany of existing projects…and there are still only two suppliers ?” she said.
The legislation also has the support of environmental and wildlife groups.
Zack Pistora, a lobbyist for the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club, said the organization supports clean energy considering the effects on nearby communities.
“We don’t always see industries in our state, in our view, taking responsibility for some of the harmful things they impose on host communities,” Pistora said, “and the wind industry, in our view, has done a good job.”