Commissioners have the final yes or no vote; hearing set for Dec. 12

A second wind farm in Pratt County is one step closer to reality. The Pratt County Planning and Zoning Board voted to accept the NextEra Energy special application for a wind farm in the southwest quadrant of Pratt County following a public hearing Nov 21 at the Pratt County Fairgrounds.

The project is Pratt Wind LLC and is located from SW 140th Avenue to SE 50th Avenue and from U.S. 54 south to SW and SE 110th Streets.

The application will now go to the Pratt County Commissioners for final approval. They will hold a public hearing on the wind farm on Monday, Dec. 12 at 5 p.m. in the Pratt County Courthouse.

Board member Rick Shriver has land in the proposed area of the wind farm and recused himself from participating on the board. He watched the meeting from the audience and did not participate in the vote. Board members Ted Loomis and Brad Swisher had interests in the area and abstained from voting but they remained seated with the board and listened to the presentations. Board member Fred Newby was absent.

Sam Massey, NextEra project director for the Pratt Wind project, said NextEra follows three values: excellence, doing the right thing and treating people with respect.

The project would cover 40,000 acres in Pratt County. There would be 104 wind generators, each producing 2.1 megawatts of power for a total of 220 megawatts for the entire farm. There will be 12 miles of transmission line to carry power to the Ninnescah Energy substation then move it on to Wichita. The energy will be sold to a utility or a commercial customer, said Vicky Post, NextEra development.

Construction of Pratt Wind, a $313 million investment, would create from 200 to 300 temporary construction jobs, from 10 to 20 full time positions ($60,000 to $80,000 a year) and about $45,000 million in lease payments. Each landowner would make an individual longterm contract with NextEra for their land, Massey said.

Tricia Bernhardt, Tetra Tech senior environmental planner and project manager, said her company would identify all environmental elements that would be impacted by the wind farm. Most of the land in the proposed area, about 90 percent, is crop land with about six percent in grass.

Her job is to identify any species, such as whooping cranes and the Arkansas darter fish that could be impacted by the construction of a wind farm. Studies were started in the fall and are expected to last a year. This includes a wetlands assessment. From five to six percent of the Pratt Wind area is wetlands.

The average turbine and access roads will take up about two acres each.

NextEra will work with crop dusters and turn machines off whenever a crop duster is working a field.

During the public hearing portion of the hearing, several audience members shared pros and cons about the project. Several speakers, including Margaret Duell, said they approved of wind farm and saw it as a way to keep the farm in the family for more generations.

Paul Bryan favors the farm and said, "I'd like to protect the land for my children."

There were other issues for NextEra to consider. Ed Petrowsky said NextEra had not done everything properly in environmental studies and were breaking the Environmental Species Act. He said he would file suit against NextEra.

Massey said that the wind farm has not been approved and they are not under construction so they can't be breaking the environmental species act. NextEra always works closely with U.S. Fish and wildlife and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to make sure they are in compliance with local, state and federal environmental regulations.

Esther Ash said she wanted NextEra to hire locally for the permanent jobs.

"You need to be committed to training people from the local area," Ash said. "I want jobs and I want electricity for Pratt Kansas."

In one letter sent to the Tim Branscom, zoning administrator, a resident and his mother had health issues and were concerned the sound of the wind generator would keep them awake and cause health issues. They questioned if NextEra would follow World Health Organization standards.

Massey said there were numerous studies that showed the wind generators posed no threat to health.

John Bales said if the wind farm doesn't reduce the cost of electricity, he didn't see any benefits from it. Brooks and Pauly Thompson were concerned about the economics of it all and wanted to know if taxes would go up. They were also concerned with the change in the skyline with a wind farm.

Massey addressed several issues and said: There were studies that showed property values could go up or down because of a wind farm; NextEra would hire as many local people as they could but these were highly competitive jobs so they might have to hire outside county.

NextEra has $1 billion in energy projects in Kansas and has established six projects in Kansas since 2000. Wind farm projects usually last 30 years. The only change to the application was to increase from 18 to 36 the number of months NextEra would need to secure a power purchase agreement and apply for a second hearing.