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Larry Patton's Testimony in Opposition to HB 2842 Before the House Utilities Committee (KS)

On Feb. 15, Larry Patton testified in opposition to HB 2842 (creating a "wind energy stimulus package"), and in opposition to RPS, eminent domain, and other incentives for wind development in the Flint Hills, before the House Utilities Committee.

House Utilities Committee

Industrial Wind Facilities in the Flint Hills

I am the 5th generation of my family to have the privilege of managing and preserving native grassland in the Flint Hills, one of the most unique landscapes in Kansas and the last remaining significant Tallgrass Prairie ecosystem in the world. Please allow me to explain why so many people throughout our state have concerns about the development of large scale commercial wind energy complexes in the Flint Hills.

Most Kansans appreciate the unique, timeless beauty of the Flint Hills and understand the importance of preserving the region for future generations. In recent years we have also realized what scientists have known for decades: the Tallgrass Prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Only 3-4% of it remains undisturbed and most of this is in the Flint Hills. This happened because as Americans settled the fertile prairies in the center part of our country we converted our native grassland to farm land, cities, and industrial sites. The rocky ridges of the Flint Hills could not be farmed, so the nutritious warm weather grasses survived and became the basis for our ranching heritage in eastern Kansas.

Almost everyone is perceptive enough to realize that any large-scale industrial development will have a lasting negative effect on our endangered Tallgrass landscape. Even... [truncated due to possible copyright]  
House Utilities Committee                               

Industrial Wind Facilities in the Flint Hills

I am the 5th generation of my family to have the privilege of managing and preserving native grassland in the Flint Hills, one of the most unique landscapes in Kansas and the last remaining significant Tallgrass Prairie ecosystem in the world.  Please allow me to explain why so many people throughout our state have concerns about the development of large scale commercial wind energy complexes in the Flint Hills.

Most Kansans appreciate the unique, timeless beauty of the Flint Hills and understand the importance of preserving the region for future generations.  In recent years we have also realized what scientists have known for decades: the Tallgrass Prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world.  Only 3-4% of it remains undisturbed and most of this is in the Flint Hills.  This happened because as Americans settled the fertile prairies in the center part of our country we converted our native grassland to farm land, cities, and industrial sites.   The rocky ridges of the Flint Hills could not be farmed, so the nutritious warm weather grasses survived and became the basis for our ranching heritage in eastern Kansas. 

Almost everyone is perceptive enough to realize that any large-scale industrial development will have a lasting negative effect on our endangered Tallgrass landscape.  Even wind energy corporations acknowledge their giant turbines have a certain amount of negative ecological and visual impact, yet they continue to search for ways to justify their pursuit of profit at the expense of our environment and cultural heritage.   One way wind developers hope to force the construction of 400 ft. turbines in the Flint Hills is through a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).  Passage of a renewable energy mandate would force our utility companies to sell higher priced “green” energy, which would force the construction of hundreds of wind turbines throughout Kansas.  A renewable mandate would be bad for the Flint Hills and bad for every Kansan who pays a utility bill.

Reasonable people know appropriate land use practices vary across our state.  Reasonable people also know the Flint Hills should remain a productive grazing area which attracts increasing numbers of tourists.   Reasonable people know there is something wrong about industrializing the last 3-4% of an ecosystem with hundreds of wind turbines.   Most Flint Hills area counties have comprehensive plans which contain a section about the importance of protecting certain sensitive areas from fragmentation and development, yet wind energy developers ignore these guidelines.


Objections to industrial wind development in the Flint Hills include:

*The Tallgrass Prairies should not be compromised by hundreds of large-scale wind turbines with miles of roads, trenches, and transmission lines that must accompany them.  The spectacular views (both day and night) would be significantly altered.  It’s obvious that the construction of “wind farms” modifies the landscape considerably, resulting in a major transformation of its physical features, changes in the ecosystem, and visual pollution.  Landowners resent non-resident developers trying to convince them that changing the visual image of the Flint Hills landscape is insignificant.  Most of all they resent the prospect of the state or federal government imposing a Renewable Portfolio Standard on Kansans.  An RPS would virtually ensure more industrial wind development in the Flint Hills.

*All landowners have rights, not just a few here and there who are willing to sacrifice their portion of native prairie for wind turbine lease money.  All landowners should be able to protect the value of their property and preserve it for future generations.  The KCC has decided to grant utility status to industrial wind facilities, which means that neighboring landowners have become victims of eminent domain condemnations of their land.   It is disturbing that out-of-state and foreign developers can “take” property rights from Kansas landowners. 

 *Grazing areas will not be as productive because of the inevitable destruction of native grasses, increased frequency of weeds, and soil erosion which occurs any time the prairie is disturbed by heavy machinery.  Prairie restoration is very costly and takes decades (some insist it takes centuries) to accomplish.  Spring burning practices may have to be altered, which would certainly have a negative effect on grazing.

 *Placement of wind farms in the Flint Hills will reduce the value of adjacent land due to the altered visual image.  The pristine, virgin, timeless prairie image will be gone which will certainly change real estate values, as has happened in other parts of the country where the visual image is closely tied to land value. 

 *Tourism has grown dramatically in recent years and will be reduced if the landscape is altered.  Visitors come to the Flint Hills to experience our endless sea of grass, not intrusive industrial development which dominates the horizon. In an effort to attract travelers to Kansas and the Flint Hills the state designated a portion of highway 177 as a SCENIC BYWAY.  This stretch of highway was recently designated a national SCENIC BYWAY.  Representatives of wind energy companies have approached landowners along this same stretch of road about signing leases.

 *Wildlife populations would be affected as a result of wind farms.  The Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and The Nature Conservancy have concluded that industrial development in the Flint Hills will have a negative effect on wildlife.

 *Landowners fear that “fragmentation” of the Flint Hills will occur rapidly once the door is opened for industrialization.  We have seen maps of the Hills which clearly reveal the corporate vision for building wind energy conversion systems throughout the geographic region.  Many believe wind factory development will lead to other forms of industrial sprawl.

We Americans have always been infatuated with technology that will accelerate what some see as our Manifest Destiny to conquer the land in the name of progress.  As a culture, we have been too quick to abuse our natural environment in order to make money.

Most of us who call the Flint Hills our home have always believed the rocky hilltops would protect the grassland from the plow and other modern intrusions, thus preserving the Tallgrass Prairie.  In our naiveté it never occurred to us that the existence of our world famous Flint Hills could be threatened by industrial development.  We have the wind turbine technology to physically conquer the Flint Hills, but hopefully we’re wise enough to resist that temptation.  Let’s use our technology to harness the wind in locations that have already undergone significant landscape alteration and areas where the majority of the land is being used for crop production. 

It’s amazing to most stewards of Flint Hills land that anyone who is concerned about preserving the environment could consider destroying a vanishing ecosystem that is now represented in our National Park system.  How many of us would endorse the placement of wind towers in the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone or Yosemite?  Rational thinking Kansans know in their hearts it’s wrong to destroy a one of a kind landscape.  Only  3-4% of our nation’s original Tallgrass Prairie remains undisturbed and most of it is in the Flint Hills.  Other acceptable sites are available for wind development.  Placing hundreds of 400 ft. turbines in the Flint Hills shows no regard for the natural beauty or the environmental significance of Kansas.  

Our elected officials at both the state and federal level have created an extremely friendly business climate for industrial wind energy development without considering the consequences.  They have established generous tax exemptions and incentives that are not coupled with environmental responsibility.  Now it is imperative that Kansas establish parameters designating which geographic areas within the state are suitable for industrial wind development.  The state of Kansas should craft a responsible wind energy policy which sets limits for industrial development in unique native prairie environments such as the Flint Hills and Smoky Hills.  We must take action to protect our scenic, endangered ecosystems from being sacrificed for the sake of short term corporate profit.

Larry R. Patton


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FEB 15 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/2012-larry-patton-s-testimony-in-opposition-to-hb-2842-before-the-house-utilities-committee-ks
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