Over the last year or so, there has been plenty of regional discussion on renewable energy.
Several counties around Sedgwick County have had robust community hearings or have quietly worked out the details and witnessed hundreds of wind turbines pop up. That said, what works in one area may not work great everywhere.
We made the news this week when Sedgwick County unanimously passed an update to the Community Investment Plan along with zoning regulations for commercial wind and solar farms. Over the last year, we have heard quite a bit of opposition from neighbors concerned about the “flicker-effect,” how these turbines kill birds like eagles, and how they emit a low persistent drone and how living near a towering generator will cause property values to plummet. Nearly everyone says they are in favor of renewable energy production. The disagreement comes when we start defining details about where to place these farms.
Here in Sedgwick County, the most compelling concern that influenced the wind turbine discussion is the vast aviation industry. Here in the Air Capital, we build planes but we also train pilots and are exploring drone technology. Sedgwick County has 31 airports and perhaps 40 runways or airstrips depending on how they’re counted. More than just manufacturing aircraft, flying is a huge part of our economy and is a big part of our culture.
Some people think if we have the generators closer to Wichita, it might somehow lower our local energy bills. Regardless of where the electricity is generated and enters the nation’s power grid, it becomes available to customers anywhere and everywhere. Collectively, the nation has invested in about 100,000 wind turbines but the cost of energy has steadily risen.
Sedgwick County is different from our surrounding counties in many ways. With over a half million people and 20 cities, Sedgwick County is more urbanized and industrialized than the agricultural plains that surround us.
After many months of work, after hearing from so many in the community, and after consulting the scientific information available, the planning commission recommended we allow all personally owned renewable energy solar or wind generators but prohibit large commercialized wind farms inside Sedgwick County. Commercial solar is acceptable as long as the reflections are managed.
Kansas had almost no renewable energy 20 years ago. Despite that slow start, Kansas has leap-frogged other states with nearly 6,000 wind turbines located at 19 wind farms. Roughly, 5.8% of the nation’s wind generators call Kansas home. Kansas is a leader on renewables and we should be proud of that fact.