Sunday, September 23, 2007

No one wants to live right next to turbines, especially not in town

Submitted by Betty Dinges, resident of Ellis County:

Last week, I was visiting with some friends who live in town, and they let me know they are "tired of hearing and reading about the wind farm." I guess I have been a bit obsessed about it since I live west of Hays.

But I wonder if the town people would give it some thought if they found out some foreign company had offered the city commissioners a chunk of dough to put these turbines in town. Maybe one on each school playground; a few on the beautiful lawns in front of Hays Medical Center; some on the soccer fields, and surely, Seven Hills Park could handle three or four. No matter the change of scenery, the noise and the health problems they might cause.

Oh yes, and for the person on Lawrence Drive who so looks forward to listening to the "soft woosh" and watching the blades turn in the wind: They must put one closer to her house. If she thinks the sound she would hear clear over there would be a "soft woosh," she surely wouldn't mind hearing the sounds we would be hearing so much closer.

Of course, this can never happen, and the people who live in town won't be affected by the wind farm west of Hays -- or will they?

Betty Dinges
1113 Stonecrest
Hays, Kansas

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Where is our moratorium?

Submitted to Hays Daily News, Sept. 20, by J.P. Michaud.

Opponents of the proposed wind energy project west of Hays went to great effort and expense to collect more than 700 signatures petitioning for a moratorium on wind energy development until adequate assessments of environmental, economic, and medical impacts can be conducted by suitably qualified, independent experts – as opposed to blindly accepting the propaganda of those with vested financial interests in the project.

Surely no one can argue that this is an unreasonable request. So what could possibly give county commissioners pause in proceeding in this direction? After all, fewer than 400 signatures of registered voters are required to recall a county commissioner, or to petition a grand jury to investigate political corruption and conflicts of interest on the part of appointed or elected public officials.

A moratorium is not saying 'NO' to wind energy. It is simply a temporary stay of proceedings to permit the gathering of information by qualified individuals, the development of adequate regulations to protect the community, and a sober, unbiased assessment of all the consequences.

The alternative is a hasty and ill-advised rush forward without adequate information or sufficient analysis of consequences. Were our County Commission to consider entertaining an early reapplication by Iberdrola, gerrymandered to circumvent a perfectly valid protest petition, it would be cause for serious concern about the depth and breadth of political corruption in Ellis county, not to mention setting the stage for a lengthy and expensive legal battle.

It cannot be denied by anyone that the current zoning regulations are little more than a blank check for Iberdrola to do as they please on 10,000 acres. They consist of language designed to facilitate, rather than regulate wind energy and they were installed by Lance Russell and Jo Kraus specifically to benefit their family – not Ellis County. These regulations are so pathetically inadequate that even David Yearout, the state counsel sent to advise Ellis County on such matters, and incidentally a member of the governor's task force promoting wind energy, found it necessary to remove himself from any association with them.

So I ask again, where is our moratorium?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Wind Industrialization Located Too Close to Hays Would Harm the Economic Growth of Hays

Letter from Jody Pfannenstiel, resident of Ellis County, Kansas

Recent claims have been stated in the The Hays Daily News claiming the majority of Ellis County support the current industrial wind development. On what basis are these claims made? Has this entire debate really just come down to "because I said so"?

Unfortunately, there has been a tremendous amount of confusion and misguided information circulating about the project in the effort to secure public support. Virtually no attention has been paid to full disclosure or fact-finding.

Iberdrola has put out a lot of misleading information to secure their project.

They, of course, have massive profit at stake. Yet the citizens of Ellis County have been left to make up their minds based on this information alone without any independent study. Reminds me of the old advertising poster that read; "Four out of five doctors smoke Camels!"

In order to make an informed decision, interested citizens require at bare minimum the following: a comprehensive land use plan and independent projections of the economic growth of Hays. I am at a complete loss as to how we can make this decision responsibly without any real study of question.

As we look back over the last 35 years of Ellis County history, we can project huge problems ahead if we allow this development this close to our city.

Imagine, what if 35 years ago turbines were placed north of the interstate? This area was roughly the same distance from town then as the proposed project is today. Has this been allowed, we could forget Wal-Mart, Home Depot and everything else in one of the most economically important areas of our city today.

We don't have to stop there however, look east down 27th Street, 35 years ago, you would not have found the Sternberg Museum, Edward Jones, the nursing homes, dental offices and beautiful homes that now occupy that area. More economic growth vaporized by turbines.

Thirty-five years ago, these pasture areas were vacant and available. Had we filled them with something as short-sighted as a wind development, we would have lost millions in additional growth potential. If we could go back in time and purpose wind turbines in those areas knowing what they contribute today, how many people would actually vote for them?

Similarly, if we allow this project this close to town, what development we will never envision or realize in place of a project that could easily have been sited elsewhere? At the very least, this area of 20,000 acres of prime development land deserves and demands independent study to ensure that the $600,000 per year will not cost us millions annually in lost potential.

Why hasn't this been done? That question should deeply concern the citizens of Ellis County. Based on my research, I think we will find a much different picture than the one being sold to us. I have yet to find a single community that can verify an economic boom as promised to them by the likes of Iberdrola.

Now, since imaginary figures have played such a crucial role in this debate, allow me a few of my own projections, based on the people I drink coffee with:

  • One hundred percent of the people of Ellis County believe they should be presented with unbiased facts and figures to decide their vote.

  • One hundred percent of them want to know what the hidden risks of such a development are before it is approved.

  • One hundred percent also want to know if there has been any underhanded political dealings to avoid rewarding unethical behavior.

Lastly, 100 percent of people in Ellis County are positive that if this project is approved and things go bad because of the poor choice of location, poor regulation and planning and shady political dealings, no one will step forward to take the blame.

Submitted by:
Jody Pfannenstiel
974 Mount Pleasant
Hays, Kansas

We Commend Perry Henman for Voting No on the Wind Farm Zoning Application

Perry Henman (County Commissioner) stood up to the financial bullies and did what is best for Ellis County. He was not persuaded by greed, nor did he act only on possible financial gains. He did what he knows is right. He knows our zoning commission didn't do their job in preparing for this kind of industrialization, so he didn't allow our other commissioners to rush us into something our county is not properly prepared for. We need a moratorium established to put in place proper guidelines first before we progress with something of the magnitude of this wind turbine complex. We also need to respect the rights of all property owners and search for a location better suited for our entire community. Perry Henman understands this, and he should be highly commended. (From: Bruce Rupp, Hays, Kansas)

I am not against wind energy in Ellis County, my concern has always been about location, health and safety issues. The wind blows as much in the southwest corner of the county. Thank you Mr. Henman, for voting with a clear mind, not one clouded by dollar signs and after weighing all the concerns and issues. Apparently, the protest petition was not a concern of the other two commissioners. (From: A.J. Pfannenstiel, 840 150th Ave., Hays, Kansas)

I applaud Perry Henman's courage, strength and intestinal fortitude (guts) to stand up for what he believes. How much easier it would have been to cave in to peer pressure?(Terri Rupp, resident of Ellis County, Kansas)

I think Perry Henman was right on with his decision. We need to step back and do this right, the regulations that are currently in place are simply not adequate. And the thought of signing off now and negotiating later is a travesty waiting to happen. There can be wind energy in Ellis County if it's done right. Tammy Deterding, resident of Ellis County, Kansas

It was probably the wisest thing to do at this point. It would be foolish to sign a contract and then negotiate the terms. Patrick Lowry, did you negotiate wages before or after you took the job? Let's get a moratorium on this until we can have more than 1 1/2 pages to protect us. Rewrite the zoning on industrial wind before we proceed. (from Paul Wildeman, Ellis County, Kansas)

Perry Henman is a man of honesty and courage.¬He is looking out for the better welfare of the community as a whole. The other two commissioners were very very wrong to take the bribe offered to them. Why are they so gullible and naive, when it comes to Krista Gordon's lies? For example, she said that the turbines will be worth the same value 20 years from now as scrap material. "The motor can be sold as a motor and the blades as blades." What a joke that is and what a big fat lie. It is so sad that the other two commissioners can not think for themselves and actually listen with healthy skepticism. (from Angie Grant, resident of Ellis County, Kansas)

Please do not blame Perry Henman. Blame the three county commissioners and the zoning committee that forced countywide zoning down our throats with no respect for the voice of the people. These three men and the committee chairman knew that the wind-farm people would not come in unless county wide zoning was put in place. Had they disclosed their agenda at the very beginning many of these issues could have been worked out and the wind-farm issue would have passed. Instead they upset the masses and we grouped together to oust the sitting commissioners. Perry did nothing more than upset a house of cards that was built on a foundation of deceit and hidden agendas. Perry Henman did not just represent a few hundred people who were against the wind farm, he represented thousands of us who were against the way the old commissioners shoved countywide zoning down our throat. Blame the old commissioners and the biased zoning committee for the defeat of the wind farm. Their total disregard for the will of the people led to their defeat and also the defeat of the wind farm, which would have been a good thing for the county. Let us all hope that the new county regulations are built with a true agenda rather than a hidden agenda. (from Jason Dinges, resident of Ellis County, Kansas)

I applaud Perry Henman for having the insight, integrity and intelligence to prevent this county from getting into a train wreck.¬Now let's make a comprehensive plan with proper and adequate zoning regulations to protect everyone in this county. I despise CPV / Iberdrola (the for profit company from Spain) for what they have done to this county and its people. And by the way, if there are so many people in favor of this industrial project. Then why were there never more than 10 to 20 supporters at their support meetings? (from Bob Goodrow, resident of Ellis County, Kansas)

Mr. Henman did nothing but vote what he felt to be right in his heart. That means¬he has one. Even a jury has the right and the duty to acquit if there is reasonable doubt. This project, as well as the zoning process that brought us to this point, has holes the size of craters. We call that reasonable doubt. Mr. Henman did Ellis County a service by slowing down what might well prove to be a disaster for the county. We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by¬making decisions on something of this magnitude count, and by¬making sure it's the right thing for the right location. Our hats are off¬to you, Mr. Henman. Thank you for feeling compassion for the opponents living in the project area who've been made to feel their concerns are worthless all along. At least someone was listening. We thank you. (from Jim and Luanne Kramer, residents of Ellis County)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Obvious to the Oblivious

"The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him." -Leo Tolstoy

For some time now our community has been locked in battle over a proposed wind development on the outskirts of Hays. In full disclosure, I too have been involved in this debate and am decidedly against the location presently under consideration.

One of the most astounding things about the industrial wind debate in Ellis County is the polarization which has occurred. Polarization has been evident since the debate emerged in the public eye several months ago. Since the Commission vote, it seems to have intensified. Meanwhile, Iberdrola completely ignores the invitation to engage in an open community discussion, and the division rages on.

When reading the evidence concerning industrial wind power, it becomes quickly apparent that conclusions are mixed at best. There may be positive aspects of industrial wind generation but these benefits are very often offset by poor planning and placement. It also bears mentioning that the issues surrounding industrial wind projects are complex and difficult to sort out. That however does not excuse us from our responsibility to wrestle with the dissonance.

As such, I have been struggling to make sense of various claims and positions of some of my fellow citizens on both sides of this debate. Recently however, as I read an opinion piece in the HDN, the admonitions of my research dissertation chair began to reverberate loudly in my head, “BEWARE OF SELECTION BIAS”.

Regardless of which side a person is on in this debate, it seems that he or she has all the evidence on their side. If you don’t believe me, just ask them. Of course it is also apparent that their claims are biased. More specifically they reflect a particular type of selection bias known as “confirmation bias”. Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek information that only supports your position while ignoring data that contradicts it. Therefore, you seek only what you want, and find it every time.

Confirmation bias explains a tremendous amount of what has occurred in this debate. It is evident that this “my side” bias accelerates polarization and distortion of logic. As just one of many examples, project proponents claim that a wide majority of perhaps 80% of the county populace supports them. On what basis do they make these claims? It’s simple really, because they associate with people that share their views, look for evidence that supports that view and discount the evidence that doesn’t fit well with their position. To be fair, there is a slim chance that 80% do agree with them, but they don’t know this and they display no intention to find out. It’s like saying “I have made up my mind already, so don’t confuse me with the facts.”

Even the most touted aspects of this proposal are wrought with confirmation bias. The economic impact questions are far from known. Those for the project are convinced it will be positive, while those against it, argue more will be lost than gained. Ask either side and you’ll hear an “irrefutable” answer that just so happens to agree with them.

This bias is so rampant that logic bears no burden in carrying even the most basic questions. It is nearly impossible to effectively argue (when considering all the issues) that the proposed location of this industrial development is the best location available in Ellis County. Other wind projects are almost always placed in isolated or economically declining areas. This project is proposed next to the only growing city in northwest Kansas. This obvious problem does not trouble those committed to this wind development. They skirt the issue entirely, try and confuse the issue by injecting arguments not related to the question and engage in defensive posturing, all in the effort to avoid challenging their pre-existing bias and thereby risk their personal interest.

As the interested parties of one side or the other bicker over who possesses the correct information regarding this proposed wind development, the real travesty continues unabated. While it may be academically interesting to posit who is right, the independent data that would support an unbiased answer to that question has never been collected. Meanwhile, the county commission is busy determining what will actually happen.

Though the vote has been taken and the project declined, Iberdrola vows to push on, in the effort to have this development approved. Many feel this decision is the most important decision Ellis County will face in our lifetimes. With these stakes, we should demand our decision makers base this decision on unbiased information collected by independent scientific study. We must demand a moratorium on this and future applications in order to take the time necessary to candidly study the impacts of developments this large on the city of Hays and the outlying county. This objective information can then be utilized to create a comprehensive land use plan, and reform the various zoning regulations that fail to support this plan. With this new vision and regulation, we can finally rest knowing that the true purpose of zoning, to protect all the citizens of Ellis County, is our authentic goal.

As it stands, two commissioners have signed letters of support fully two years prior to the application and subsequent public discussion. If they continue to deliberate, they do so without the benefit of a single independent study to shed light on even one of the many questions of this development. Without a comprehensive plan, better regulations and impartial information to inform the questions of this project, what will guide their decision? You guessed it, confirmation bias.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Open Letter

This is a reposting of an open letter to two of the county commissioners (originally posed September 8). It has been reposted in an attempt to overcome a formatting problem.

Dear Mr. Berens, and Mr.Pfannenstiel,

I am writing to express my disappointment in the both of you. You may be surprised for the reasons why I am disappointed. It was not because you voted in support of the conditional use permit for the wind plant. It was for the poor reasoning behind your decision.

First I want to address Mr. Berens. I called you on many occasions over the last six months and each time with the exception of the last time, which was approximately a week before the vote, you would assure me that you were listening to my concerns and you would consistently respond with “right idea, wrong location.” You made the statement, “these things should not be shoved down people’s throats.” When I suggested that the old Walker Air Base with its hyper-cultivated land be used for an industrial wind plant, you countered with “that is only four miles from Victoria and that is too close.” When I responded with “imagine the turbines being only 2000 feet from your home,” you agreed it was too close.

But the last time I spoke with you, you changed your tone. You repeatedly said that you liked the 2000 foot setback. Do I understand you correctly that you would now agree that turbines could and should be placed 2000 feet from Victoria? A picket fence of towers and turbines 2000 feet out and surrounding your town would make a statement that you are willing to sacrifice for your country. Of course I am being facetious, but I question why you would be willing to sacrifice our health, peace, and property values while your health, peace, and property values will remain unaffected.

Please do not dismiss your unintentional or intentional deception of the many people you spoke with as politics as usual. I believe this is about personal character. If you intentionally deceived the people you serve, that would be a blot on your character for the obvious reasons. If this was unintentional, then one would believe you truly were not listening to our concerns, which is disturbing in its own right. Or maybe when you signed the letter of approval for this project back in 2005, which placed the turbines even closer to homes and without any discussion with those who would be most affected, you saw no reason to look back and our fate was sealed.

Though you may not be listening to me, I am listening to you and am concerned about what I am hearing. You claimed that bargaining with Iberdrola can take place after approving the conditional use permit. What sense does this make? Would you not be playing right into Iberdrola’s hands? I hope this was a misunderstanding on my part.

Finally, you mentioned that you spoke with the Kansas Energy Commission. In the State of The State 2007, Governor Sebelius did mention wind energy goals with wind providing 10% of our electricity by 2010 and 20% by 2020. However, Governor Sebelius spent much more time expressing her concern for the health of Kansans. There is real truth to “right idea, wrong location” unless the goal is to increase vibro-acoustic disease by 10% in 2010 and wind turbine syndrome by 20% by 2020.

Now I would like to address Mr. Pfannenstiel. You have made light of our health concerns despite the fact that the French Academy of Medicine made a strong statement in 2006 recommending that modern wind turbines should be placed no closer than 1.5 kilometers from residences due to the health problems they create. The United Kingdom Noise Association in 2007 concluded that a safe buffer zone of at least 2km should exist between family dwellings and industrial wind turbines of up to 2MW installed capacity, with greater separation for a wind turbine greater than 2MW installed capacity If you review present day regulations for siting industrial wind plants in the United States, plans are becoming increasingly comprehensive and restrictive as more data is becoming available concerning noise and health issues. Today, I just received news that some more of Dr. Nina Pierpont’s research on wind turbine syndrome will be published in 2008 in a professional journal. Even though the research is becoming clearer, there is some uncertainty about the extent of the health effects. Surely it is more reasonable to err on the side of safety. I am afraid your attitude reminds me of a hunter who sees some movement off in the distance and says, “maybe it’s a deer or maybe it’s a human, so I’ll shoot. Hang the consequences.”

Finally, my family and I received an offer of a “Wind Farm Neighbor Agreement” in the mail the day of the commission meeting. I consider this offer a bribe to keep us from telling others about the negative impact 400 foot turbines can have on humans living close to them similar to the agreement and payment for those in Spearville. The prairie chickens were excluded from this offer because, as you know, chickens can’t talk.

As both of you know, Iberdrola cannot re-submit their application for a year, unless you make a special exception for them. There is research to be read and flaws to be corrected, so all of us probably need at least that year. I urge you, therefore, to learn from your mistakes and take the year to do all of the research that we need you to do.

Jacinta Faber

Friday, September 7, 2007

Former commissioner and architect of wind project now threatens law suit.

As a former county commissioner, Harold Kraus knows very well how to manipulate local government to his own ends. He now seeks to do so behind the scenes, assuming the rest of the community is either too stupid to notice, or too apathetic to care. It is up to every honest citizen of this community to see that he is put in his place.

How do you get a wind power project sited on your land without your neighbors being able to do anything about it? First, stack the zoning board with family members and supportive business associates so you can force zoning down the county's throat against a huge majority in opposition. Then, have these same zoning board members cut and paste together the most inadequate regulations ever seen in the history of zoning so that the county is wide open to wind energy development without any restrictions.

Now you are ready to solicit wind developers that might otherwise be wary of a project so close to residential housing. No problem, you say. With zoning in place, we can pull all the strings to recommend a Conditional Use Permit with only two weeks notice to anyone who might oppose it. The CUP will protect both the developer and the leaseholders from any legal liability arising from their project, no matter how hideous or environmentally destructive it turns out to be. Those who don't like it can effectively sue themselves. Slam dunk. Just like getting your step son and chair of the zoning board to ensure that your permit for a gravel pit is approved - regardless of how much of the required documentation is missing when it comes to a vote.

But Kraus seemingly underestimated the people of his community. He now realizes that they are not going to be intimidated or subservient to his sleazy, underhanded business tactics. Unable to bully his neighbors into submission, he now seeks to bully the County Commission itself and writes a letter threatening to sue the county for taking away his family's rights to do whatever they want with their land. I guess we should be thankful he doesn’t own a coal mine or it wouldn’t be only wind development we are fighting.

The bulk of Mr. Kraus' letter seeks to debunk any health effects of wind towers and place the burden of evidence on potential medical victims (remember Erin Brockovich?), while in truth the real legal burden falls on developers to prove no health hazards will result from their activities. However, the purpose of his letter appears to be a threat to demand compensation from the county for loss of his property rights if he isn’t allowed to have wind towers. Apart from being legally preposterous (you can't demand compensation for not being allowed to do something potentially hazardous to your community) it is hugely ironic. Perhaps if the process had been less devious and had offered some sort of compensation to his neighbors in the first place, the county wouldn’t now be facing law suits regardless of what decision is made on this project.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Commissioners Deny Application

Press Release: 09-04-07

Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition

The ECEAC is pleased with the outcome of the Ellis County commission vote denying the conditional use permit to place a massive industrial development outside the most populous area of Northwest Kansas.

This industrial project has been marred by an apparent manipulation of the political process and the developer’s failure to work with the entire community from the outset. Unfortunately, our community has been deeply wounded by the division resulting from the poor planning and execution of this proposal.

The ECEAC has been concerned that this development was put into motion years before it came into the public forum. We were saddened by the vote of Commissioners Berens and Pfannenstiel as it appears as though they had been biased in favor of the development before hearing the concerns of the community regarding the location of this project. Their vote today only confirms their position in 2005 when they signed a letter of support in favor of this development without the benefit of any independent studies to determine the truth of the many questions in a development of this magnitude.

Throughout this application process, it has become apparent that the Ellis County zoning regulations are severely lacking in content to protect the community from ill sited developments of this kind. Furthermore, the application process itself needs to be revisited as this development failed to follow the process appropriately. As past behavior is most often the best predictor of future behavior, we are also concerned that the developer will continue their attempts to manipulate the zoning process in the effort to foist this poorly sited development on the community.

We sincerely hope the developers do not attempt to circumvent the due process rights of the individuals in the project area by merely redefining the project boundaries in order to avoid the protest petition, and reapply for a permit of the same location. This project area has been denied and should rightfully be abandoned in favor of one more appropriately sited.

Ellis County must now look forward to fix the problems that came to light in this process. This commission must begin by establishing a comprehensive land use plan to insure appropriate placement of developments. They must also appoint an independent committee to revisit and rewrite zoning regulations appropriate to protect Ellis County. We hope to be included in this process and would offer our support to the commission.

The Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition is a group of concerned citizens dedicated to preserving all aspects of the natural rural environment of Ellis County, Kansas.