Separating wind-farm facts from fiction

Published: Apr. 23, 2019 at 4:00 PM CDT
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The proposed development of a wind farm in southeast Reno County is a hot-button issue for people who live in the area. Some embrace the idea while others, for a myriad of reasons, fight to keep the plans from coming to fruition.

The public had chances to make its voice heard at recent meetings in Reno County. On April 11, the company planning the wind farm, Next Era, had an hour and a half to rebut the 15-hour public hearing that spanned several days.

Tuesday (April 23) brings another meeting on whether Next Era should be allowed to build a wind farm near Cheney Lake.

Since talks of the proposed wind farm began, we've heard many questions and concerns related to property values and impacts on the environment and health.

Among those concerns is the possible impact on wildlife, especially birds.

"We're seeing a rapid build out of wind turbines and related infrastructure around the country right now," says Steve Holmer with the American Bird Conservatory.

Holmer spoke with Eyewitness News about the degree of accuracy with the concern that wind farms kill birds.

"We estimate that as many as a million birds a year are dying from collisions with these turbines," Holmer says. "...There's associated infrastructure with wind farms and the biggest risk to birds is actually the power lines. An estimated 25 million birds a year die from power lines and there's another 5 million electrocutions."

Holmer says the "one million" figure comes from counting dead birds at wind farms. However, many wind-energy companies dispute that finding.

The next concern deals with the noise that wind farms make. Eyewitness News sampled audio from a Kansas wind farm. Our decibel meter showed about the same level as a library, but it does generate noise. And some studies show that low-level noise can make people feel sick, dizzy, or have ringing in their ears. There are peer-reviewed studies with similar findings.

Another concern is "ice throw," the theory that ice accumulated on wind turbines in cold weather can sling off, dangerously going great distances. Scientists have studied this and while the concerns aren't invalid, you shouldn't have to worry about an ice chunk hurling toward you or your home if you live near a wind farm.

Most ice falls directly below the turbine itself and studies show, only about five percent made it as far as 260 feet. However, ice throw does happen.

In recent meetings, perhaps the most widespread concern is whether living near a wind farm will lower your property value. Realtor Stephanie McCurdy says property value is subjective and through her research, living near a wind farm does not guarantee the value of a property will decrease. It just depends on the buyer.

"...If you want to look out your window and look at a wind turbine, than that's your prerogative," she says. "If you don't want to live next to a cell tower, than you don't purchase in that area."

In its presentation on April 11, Next Era said wind farms do not affect health and it will not build a turbine less than 2,000 feet away from nearby homes while the ordinance only requires 1,000 feet.

Some Reno County residents who attended the April 11 meeting in opposition to the proposed wind farm say they listened closely to the rebuttal, but they haven't changed their minds.