By a 2-1 vote Tuesday morning, the Sumner County Commissioners approved the Argyle Creek Wind Energy Project which will place approximately 60 to 65 wind turbines in the northwest portion of the county.
The wind farm is expected to stretch across 10,000 acres of land east of Conway Springs and north of Wellington. Turbines are expected to be placed as far north as 130th Ave. and as far south of 60th Ave.; as far east as Ridge Road and as far west as Anson Road.
Invenergy, the parent company for the wind project, is expected to start construction in December 2017, according to Sumner Planning Commission Director Jon Bristor.
Commissioner Jim Newell motioned to approve the zoning changes in the area from rural to agricultural commercial which allows the construction of the wind mills to take place. Commissioner Cliff Bales seconded the motion while commissioner Steve Warner voted against the project.The commission then voted 2-1 to approve the conditional use permit which basically gives the Invenergy the go-ahead to start construction on the wind farm that is expected to generate 150 megawatts of power.
The vote came in front of a packed room of more than 100 people at the Raymond Frye Complex this morning – most of whom expressed vocal opposition to the project. The commissioners also overturned a recommendation from the advisory Sumner County Planning Commission board, who voted 5-3 in an earlier meeting this month, not to recommend zoning changes which would have essentially killed the project.
The proposed wind farm is the third of its kind in Sumner County – and likely not to be the last. One county official said a Texas company has expressed interest in building a fourth Sumner wind farm in western part of the county.
The vote came after more than two hours of testimony from those who were for and against the project.
One wind farm has already been constructed. The EDF Slate Creek Wind Project has already built 75 turbines in southern Sumner County. Another company, Tradewind Energy, has also been approved to construct a wind farm up to nearly 100 turbines, also in south Sumner County. Bristor said of the three wind farm projects in Sumner County, the Argyle project is the smallest. It is also the only one that has generated major opposition from the neighboring residents.
All the turbines are to be linked to a substation east of Belle Plaine that will eventually supply energy to Southwest Power Pool that links cooperatives, independent power producers, independent transmission companies and investor owned utility companies in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas.
Kelly Meyer, a representative for Invenergy, addressed the commissioners and made amendments to the proposal including scaling back 700 acres of land in the east section of Ridge Road and 130th Ave. N addition because it was more urban dense.
“The Argyle Creek Wind Project will bring economic benefit to the community,” she said. “We have made several small project adjustments that addresses much of the concerns brought up at the Planning Commission meeting.”
She said this would be the second Kansas project, Invenergy is involved with. The company built the Buckeye Project in Ellis County.
Meyer spoke for more than 25 minutes which became a source of contention with Wichita attorney Jerry Hawkins and many in the audience, who were opposed to the project. Each person testifying was given a three-minute time limit to speak. Bristor responded that was because Meyer was a representative of the company making the wind farm proposal.
The Sumner County citizen speaking portion of the meeting lasted an hour and 17 minutes. Some of the speakers were in favor of the wind farm proposal. But most were not.
A couple of speakers got adamant.
“People have told me two of the county commissioners are for the project and one was against,” said resident Anthony Goff, shining a flash light he brought in his pocket at the commissioner table. “So who is it?”
Warner said the commissioners haven’t talked to one another about this particular project.
Another resident Karen Boardman, who owns 50 acres near the proposed wind farm, said she wasn’t contacted about the meeting like many of the larger property owners who don’t live on their property.
“I am an ex-employee of the city of Wichita for 25 years, and I’ve sat where you are sitting now and I know one universal truth – decisions are made based on money,” Boardman said. “If you don’t keep people in check they will constantly give money to themselves.”
After the audience participation section of the meeting was over, Newell was the first commissioner to speak:
“I believe if this county is going to go forward, you must entrust us to help you keep your property taxes as low as possible. That is why we have a casino right now. We are trying to broaden the tax base… For that reason I make a motion to approve this project. I think they (Invenergy) are trying to be good neighbors.”
Bales then spoke.
“Seventy of the 75 existing wind turbines are in my district. My grandkids and I go to the half-mile line and watch them blink. I see 70 from my place and I see them tie into the wind farms that go onto Newkirk. They are not noisy. They are not obtrusive… Wind energy is an alternative energy source. I haven’t heard anything new here that I haven’t heard before and I support the proposal.”
Warner, who represents District 1 which encompasses where this particular wind farm is located, voted against the proposed project. He said he worried about big time operators having too much influence on this project.