‘This is punitive’: Kansas Senate committee considers poison pill wind energy bills

Senators heard three hours of testimony from anti-wind sources and just one hour from proponents of renewable energy

by Allison Kite, Kansas Reflector

A series of bills professing to protect rural residents from industrial wind claim to bring transparency, limit abuse and enact safety measures to protect against the supposed health hazards of turbines.

In reality, they would transform Kansas, one of the top producers of wind energy for two decades, into one of the most restrictive states in the nation, pro-wind experts say.

“This is punitive. This is not progressive,” said Kimberly Gencur Svaty, public policy director for the Kansas Advanced Power Alliance. “This is not laying out a path of economic development or growth for the state of Kansas.”

Kansas has embraced renewable development for years. The expansion of wind energy in Kansas has been embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike — and the state’s status as one of the top producers in the nation is celebrated.

But opposition to wind energy has found an ally in the Johnson County Republican leading the Senate Utilities Committee. The struggle between burgeoning resentment of industrial wind projects and the state’s two-decade history as the “Saudi Arabia of wind” received attention all last week in Sen. Mike Thompson’s committee.

“He’s been very clear he is very, very opposed and would like to end renewable energy, and so he brings these wolves-in-sheep-clothing bills to say, ‘Oh, these are just meant to do reasonable things,’ when quite clearly they’re not,” said Alan Claus Anderson, vice president of the energy group at Polsinelli law firm.

Thompson, in just his third session as a state senator, has established a reputation as a frequent critic of wind energy and touts dubious science about the health effects of wind. His committee is sponsoring half a dozen bills, most of them introduced at his request, enacting what the industry claims are poison pill restrictions on wind farms. Thompson didn’t respond to a request to comment for this story.

Last week, his committee heard for two days from anti-wind sources who claimed proximity to wind turbines could cause cardiovascular disease, sleep disturbance and headaches. They cited anecdotes and disputed research showing no evidence of significant health harms from wind turbines. There is evidence wind farms can cause annoyance, but those sensations are often worse for people who are opposed to wind energy as an underlying cause for their frustration.

“I thought and assumed that wind turbines were quiet, good for the world, and I assumed they were safe,” said Ben Washburn, a retired cardiologist from Iowa who presented for an hour to the committee. “The last few years I’ve witnessed the good, the bad, the ugly of wind turbines. The topic is massive, emotions are high, and distortion and corruption is in play.”

Washburn said to people who believe renewables are the only path forward, “I would ask you to carefully reconsider.”

And while Washburn and fellow wind critics’ testimony was supposed to be purely informational, one of them repeatedly voiced his support for Thompson’s bill requiring wind turbines to be sited at least a mile or 10 times the height of the turbine from the next property line.

After two days of hour-long presentations outlining supposed risks of wind energy, supporters of Thompson’s anti-wind bill got a third day in committee to speak directly about the legislation for five minutes each.

Only on Thursday did pro-wind forces and experts get to speak on Thompson’s bill — also for five minutes each. An expert with his PhD in environmental health and a career studying the health effects of wind got his credentials questioned. And Thompson cut off another senator voicing his opposition to the legislation.

“If we move forward with this bill — we are now a net exporter of energy — we will no longer be an exporter of energy,” said Sen. Robert Olson, an Olathe Republican. “We’ll be an importer of energy. And —”
Thompson cut him off. “Are you testifying or are you asking a question? We need to make —”

“I’m making a comment here, which I have a right, I believe,” Olson said.

Thompson said he would limit Olson’s time to comment, and Olson voiced his frustration with the dayslong anti-wind testimony.

“You know, we had people all week say what they want for an hour, and I sat in here for a long time,” Olson said.

Thompson said, “This is my committee, and I’m saying get a question in.”

Gencur Svaty encouraged the committee following her testimony to ask questions so that pro-wind advocates would get more time to speak, noting the previous days of testimony. Thompson responded that anti-wind groups testifying on his bill the day before were also limited to five minutes.

Anderson said the informational hearings held by Thompson’s committee were not meant to compile information in good faith.

“I struggle to say informational because they were obviously not intended to give good information,” Anderson said. “The people who presented are on the fringe of the fringe.”

Health effects of wind

Opponents of wind energy have made numerous claims regarding the potential health consequences of living near a turbine.

They say the whooshing sound can cause stress, and infrasound — sound waves too low for people to hear — can harm the body.

Washburn cited a 1970 paper on pollution that called noise a “scourge of the modern world” and said ambient noise could cause atherosclerotic disease, or plaque buildup in the arteries, and death.

He took issue with wind turbines, too, not based on health but because wind is an intermittent energy resource that he called unreliable. He said moving to renewable energy only is “absurd.” And he recalled a public meeting in Iowa where he claimed a wind developer’s representative was hesitant to say wind was safe.

Research has shown a link between wind turbines and feelings of annoyance but that there is not sufficient information to link wind turbines to disease.

The University of Iowa’s College of Public Health, Iowa Policy Project and the Iowa Environmental Council reviewed several pieces of research and found the consensus was there was little scientific evidence to support the idea that wind energy poses a threat to human health.

Another literature review published by researchers in Switzerland found in 67 peer-reviewed and web articles published between 2012 and 2017 that annoyance was the only symptom of wind turbine exposure that was backed up by science.

The article acknowledged people who live near wind turbines might experience anxiety or distress, which is highly dependent on their attitudes toward wind energy.

And the article notes there are known negative effects from the use of fossil fuels to create electricity. That includes climate change, but also asthma for individuals living near coal-fired power plants.

“If you just want to have no wind turbines ever, well, then we’re going to have more coal-fired power plants and more disease,” said David Osterberg, lead researcher for the Iowa Policy Project and professor emeritus at the University of Iowa College of Public Health’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health.

Osterberg said in an interview he doesn’t doubt people who live near turbines experience symptoms, but that it doesn’t come from sound. It could be a result of annoyance or stress from a large project they don’t want moving in near their home.

“But that is not a health effect that we can fix by moving the turbines back half a mile … so what they’re asking for does not take care of their symptoms,” Osterberg said. “They’re still going to be mad.”

Christopher Ollson, an environmental health scientist with Ollson Environmental Health Management, acknowledged a link between environmental noise and health concerns. But he told senators on the committee 20 years of research has shown noise from wind turbines isn’t loud enough to create those concerns.

“There is considerable research over the last 20 years that has studied this topic,” Ollson said. “The … provisions in this bill are far more excessive than any other state in this country, any of the local ordinances that have worked for more than 20 years.”

Fight over wind

Rural residents who have opposed wind projects moving into — or proposed — in their communities pleaded with the Utilities Committee on Wednesday to enact Thompson’s restrictions.

Aside from the one-mile setback, the bill would limit the decibel noise of the projects to levels the industry says are impossible and prohibit any shadow flicker on non-participating landowners’ property. Wind proponents say the way the bill is written would allow existing wind farms to be shut down over shadow flicker, something Anderson called “reckless” and said would threaten reliability of the power grid.

Several of Thompson’s bills have sought to shift power in siting wind farms to landowners who aren’t participating in the project and have voiced complaints about turbines moving in.

Proponents of wind energy often say landowners who want turbines on their property have a right to participate in the project without interference from their neighbors — while opponents say they have a right to enjoy their property free from what they see as the nuisance of wind turbines.

Gayla Randel, of Marshall County, told senators pro-wind forces would likely say they couldn’t enact Thompson’s restrictions because it would kill development.

“But what I want you to think about is, are they actually saying they can’t do their work unless they infringe on the property rights of nonparticipants,” Randel said. “Because that’s what it sounds like to me.”

Other supporters of Thompson’s bill said wind companies “steamroll” rural neighbors when they come into town.

“Unless you have a board of county commissioners who are actually savvy to wind projects, counties are sitting ducks,” said former Marion County Commissioner Dianne Novak. “We are at the mercy of these companies.”

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
See more at https://kansasreflector.com/2022/02/13/this-is-punitive-kansas-senate-committee-considers-poison-pill-wind-energy-bills/

Eagle Days scheduled Saturday and Sunday

A bald eagle was on display during Eagle Days in January 2020 at the James P. Davis Hall at Wyandotte County Lake Park, 91st and Leavenworth Road, Kansas City, Kansas. The event is scheduled this year for Saturday and Sunday at the Mr. and Mrs. F.L. Schlagle Library and the Davis Hall at Wyandotte County Lake Park. (File photo by Steve Rupert)

The annual Eagle Days will take place Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 15 and 16, at Wyandotte County Lake Park, 91st and Leavenworth Road.

The annual event is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, according to a news release from the Board of Public Utilities, which is one of the event sponsors.

Events will take place at the Mr. and Mrs. F.L. Schlagle Library at the lake, and also at the James P. Davis Hall at the lake. There are some changes to the event format this year due to COVID-19 protocols.

The free family-oriented program will provide those who attend with an opportunity to see eagles and birds of prey at each location. There are educational programs in connection with the viewing. Birds of prey from Operation WildLife Rehab Center will be on display.

Hours for Saturday are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Masks will be required.

Spotting scopes will be available outside for birdwatching around the lake. Visitors should bring binoculars and cameras to take advantage of the scenic views and beautiful winter landscapes.

This year, there will be reservations for the live bird presentations, and reservations can be made online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/fl-schlagle-library-eagle-days-live-bird-viewing-tickets-195997964187. For more information, call 913-295-8250.

According to information from the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Library, the program will offer 15-minute live bird viewing this year with species such as owls, hawks and a bald eagle instead of a one-hour formal presentation.

Each guest will need a free ticket to view the live birds at both the Schlagle Library and Davis Hall, according to library information. The ticket will allow a 15-minute time slot to take pictures, ask questions and enjoy watching the birds of prey indoors. There will be different bird species at both buildings and those who attend may reserve a time slot at both buildings.

Those who arrive without a reservation ticket will have to wait until there is a vacancy, according to the library information. While they wait, people may participate in crafts, wild bird spotting stations and outdoor activities.

Those who attend may re-enter the live bird viewing area more than once during the event as long as there are spots open, according to library information.

Eagle Days at Wyandotte County Lake are offered in partnership with Operation WildLife, the Mr. and Mrs. F.L. Schlagle Library; the Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Public Utilities; the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Library; Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools; the Unified Government; and Burroughs Audubon Society of Greater Kansas City.

For more information, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/fl-schlagle-library-eagle-days-live-bird-viewing-tickets-195997964187 or https://kckplprograms.org/2021/11/16/eagle-days-20th-anniversary-celebration/.

To see a flier about Eagle Days, visit https://kckplprograms.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Eagle-Days-2022-Flyer.pdf.

Kansans will pay more for natural gas this winter

Your natural gas bill will increase this winter as supply issues drive up market prices.

by Brian Grimmett, Kansas News Service

Wichita, Kansas — Your natural gas bill is going to go up this winter.

Natural gas prices run nearly double what they did a year ago and experts predict the increased prices to last at least through the winter.

Utility companies pass the cost of natural gas directly on to their customers. As the price of wholesale natural gas increases, so will the fee your utility charges every month.

For Kansas Gas Service customers, that fee this month is $5.67 per thousand cubic feet of gas used. Last October it was only $3.76.

Other large gas utilities have made similar increases.

The Atmos Energy gas purchase fee this month is nearly $1.50 more than last year. At Black Hills Energy it’s more than $3 more.

“Right now, what we see is a relatively tight market, and higher prices signalling that more (gas) supplies are needed on the market,” said Richard Meyer, vice president of the American Gas Association that represents natural gas utilities.

The U.S. Energy Information Agency said a few things are causing strain on natural gas supply that contribute to higher-than-normal natural gas prices.

First, the amount of gas in underground storage is lower than normal. That’s partly caused by February’s winter storm that set record cold temperatures for much of the central U.S. It’s also caused by increased usage by gas-fired power plants during a particularly hot August.

Hurricane Ida also cut natural gas production and supplies.

While the EIA expects many of those supply issues to get resolved, it said the price will likely remain high all winter.

If it does, the average Kansan could see a monthly bill increase as much as $100 higher than last year.

Kansas Gas Service spokeswoman Dawn Tripp said the company has several tools to help keep the cost of gas down even as market prices rise.

The company has purchased and stored large amounts of gas this summer when prices were generally lower. It also will enter into long- and medium-term contracts to try to lock a price in and hedge against future increases.

“By doing that, we’re able to place a price cap on a portion of our winter supply,” Tripp said.

Increased natural gas prices will also greatly impact Kansas farmers. Natural gas is the main ingredient in nitrogen fertilizers. When the price of gas goes up, so does the price of fertilizer.

“Fertilizer is the largest direct cost (for farmers),” said Mark Nelson with the Kansas Farm Bureau.

Higher fertilizer prices will mean thinner profit margins, he said.

Last year the price to put fertilizer on no-till corn was $60 an acre. Nelson said many people are preparing for that cost to double.

“That’s a lot of money just for that one cost input,” Nelson said.

Brian Grimmett reports on the environment, energy and natural resources for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett or email him at grimmett (at) kmuw (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.
See more at https://www.kcur.org/news/2021-10-13/kansans-will-pay-more-for-natural-gas-this-winter.