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Kansas law requires wind farm technology to turn off the flashing red lights

The flashing red lights atop wind turbines in Kansas may flash a little less if lawmakers pass a couple of bills affecting wind farms.

“Currently wind turbines have a bright red light above them that flashes constantly,” said Sen. Virgil Peck, R-Havana. “This (bill) would mean they were off unless the radar system detected an aircraft or something in the area, then they would flash so the aircraft would know it wasn’t flying in that particular area.”

The Senate Utilities Committee is considering two bills: SB 49, which would require light-mitigation technology on new wind turbines, and SB 46, which would require installation on existing turbines.

The bill requires that the technology be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. Currently, only two companies produce FAA-approved aircraft detection lighting systems. Separate dimming technology is not currently approved by the FAA, but would be permitted in Kansas if and when it gets FAA approval.

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Wind farms with more than five turbines at least 50 feet tall would be affected

The legislation would apply to wind farms with five or more turbines that are at least 50 feet tall.

“If you’ve traveled at night, you’ve no doubt seen the flashing lights from afar,” Peck said. “Residents who live near these non-stop flashing lights after dark tell me they interrupt their lives, interrupt their sleep.

“Those of us who live in rural areas – I know – love to go out at night on a clear night and see all the splendor of the heavens that God created with all the stars, the moon. With flashing lights, you can’t do that.”

Testimony in a couple of meetings last week was largely in support of the plan, and wind energy advocates weren’t opposed to addressing the lighting grievances. The legislation comes after a Senate Select Committee on wind turbine lighting met between legislative sessions to study the issue.

Kimberly Svaty, a lobbyist for the Kansas Power Alliance, said the group is generally in favor of retroactive requirements, but noted that costs could average about $2 million upfront for the roughly 45 existing wind farm developments and counting. $150,000 annually in additional costs.

“The Kansas legislature has historically been slow to force industries in any sector of the economy to retroactively incur a cost for their investment,” Svaty said.

Peck acknowledged that the bill could add some costs to existing and future wind developments, “but that’s something that really disturbs and distresses” his constituents who live near wind farms.

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The wind turbine bill soon found support from groups across Kansas

Dorothy Barnett, director of the Climate + Energy Project, said it “could provide relief for Kansans who are really feeling annoyance from wind turbine lighting and take away a tool used by the disinformation machine to inflame anti-renewable energy sentiment.”

Zack Pistora, the lobbyist for the Kansas Sierra Club, said the group “believes wind farm developers have a responsibility to be good neighbors” and installing light-mitigating technology is “a good-faith response from part of the industry to address the concerns”.

Kansas County Association lobbyist Jay Hall said that while the group typically wants local control over wind power development, it supports statewide light mitigation standards because even safety concerns for pilots are a federal issue.

As written, the bill technically only requires wind farm developers to apply to the FAA and then install the system if the FAA approves it.

“If you really read the fine print, it’s not that they have to, it’s that they have to apply,” said Aaron Popelka, a lobbyist for the Kansas Livestock Association. “We need lawmakers to step in and make sure these developments are in places where the FAA can get them approved and wind companies move in and get them approved.”

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