For Kansas state Rep. Carrie Barth, the broken turbine in Marshall County and its fiberglass debris scattered across farmland has confirmed one of the many loopholes industrial wind companies have to distance themselves from responsibilities to the residents who live in their shadow.
“We have all of these bureaucracies to deal with health and environment, yet there’s no plan for remediating any problems that arise from these structures,” Barth told The Epoch Times.
The wind turbine, which is a part of the Irish Creek Wind Energy Center (ICWEC), was found broken on April 16.
NextEra, the company that built the wind complex, has yet to fix it or provide a thorough cleanup, though a blade remains hanging, which is a safety hazard, Barth said.
“It’s still dangling as we speak,” Barth said, sharing a video of the broken turbine.
The break caused fiberglass to shatter and spread onto the property of those who didn’t want the turbine there from the start; however, Barth said it’s now ruined the farmers’ crops. One farmer, she said, can’t bale his hay, and his cows aren’t able to safely graze the grass.
“I have a chunk of the fiberglass that I put in a Ziploc bag, and when I opened it, shards flew out of the top of it, so you can imagine what’s coming off the remaining portion of the dangling blade today compared to one little piece,” Barth said. “If this goes into our food supply, that is a huge concern for me.”
She said the farmer on the adjacent property has found chunks of fiberglass in his grass and won’t be able to use his hay when he bales it.
“They’ve done several passes to pick out the bigger pieces, but cows can’t eat fiberglass,” Barth said.
Barth called several state and federal departments in addition to NextEra seeking help, but they all had the same response, she said: “No remediation.”
NextEra itself issued no apology or immediate formal written plan to fix the turbine or offer environmental cleanup.
Downstream From the Broken Turbine
Ellen and Bob Koch own land a mile and a half away from the property where the turbine fell.
Their cattle drink from a stream that converges along their farm from three smaller streams.
“A big rain will wash that fiberglass into the stream and float right down to our place,” Bob told The Epoch Times.
Every time they go along the county road on the property, they find a new piece of fiberglass, Ellen said.
They have followed NextEra’s projects in the area since a neighbor first informed them of the company’s plans to build in Marshall County.
The contracts they’ve reviewed they’ve found to be duplicitous, allowing for property owners to sign the rights of their land for up to 90 years.
“If we signed that lease, our grandkids would be dead by the time it ended,” Ellen said.
According to Barth, the contracts are unfairly one-sided.
“They’re supposed to be bilateral in that they protect both parties in a fairly equal state, yet these are written in a unilateral manner that really just protects the energy company and not the property owner,” Barth said.
Barth got involved in learning about wind and solar energy in the state when she began to hear from constituents how it was impacting the communities, she said.
When campaigning last summer, Barth said she knew very little about what was happening.
“I knocked on a constituent’s door, and she told me what was happening in our county,” Barth said. “She opened my eyes to what is happening and has been happening. She talked about how its affected people’s lives, the environment, and health. She started to cry. I hugged her. When I left, all I could think was, ‘This is wrong.’”
From there, Barth began researching and speaking with residents in other counties.
She’s working on legislation to give more protection to residents, she said.
The only legislation passed in the state to regulate wind farms is a bill requiring that future projects have Aircraft Detection Lighting System (ADLS) installed.
Surrounded by Red, Blinking Lights
According to Jonathan Sill, a substation electrician who lives in Marshall County, wind turbines have red lights that continuously blink to warn aircraft of their presence.
The ADLS acts as a sensor that activates the blinking lights only when aircraft are near instead of a perpetual flashing “from dusk until dawn.”
One of Sill’s problems with the legislation is that for current wind farms, companies wouldn’t have to get an ADLS system until the end of their power purchase agreement.
“The Irish Creek wind farm has a 20-year power purchase agreement between Irish Creek LLC, NextEra, and Amazon,” Sill told The Epoch Times. “Well, that means under the stipulations of this legislation, I’m going to be looking at these red blinking lights until 2041.”
There are 108, 500-foot turbines surrounding the city of Frankfort in Marshall County, Sill said.
“I can see the lights blinking from my window,” he said. “Now, I’m lucky. The closest turbine to me is just over a mile and a half. I live on the edge of town. There are some people who’ve had to get blackout curtains because they have them all around their house just over 2,000 feet away.”
East of Frankfort to the city of Corning in Nemaha County, Sill said there are turbines “almost 360 degrees around that town.”
“So, every night, you have these lights blinking every three seconds,” Sill said. “If you look at Republic County, they’re looking at combining two farms to have 208 wind turbines, all within 15 nautical miles of the little town of Cuba.”
Zimmerman v. Wabaunsee County
County boards have argued that they can’t prohibit companies from building on contracted land without infringing on property rights and being sued, while residents have petitioned for stricter zoning laws to protect the common welfare of the community.
South of Marshall, Wabaunsee County just said no to wind turbines. Landowners sued and lost.
In the 2009 case of Zimmerman v. Board of County Commissioners of Wabaunsee County (pdf), the Kansas Supreme Court sided with the county on its right to prohibit wind turbines in the county through zoning regulations.
According to the case, Roger Zimmerman and other landowners sought a zoning permit from the board to allow for commercial wind farms to be constructed on their property; however, the board found the farms went against the interest of the community and amended its zoning code to prohibit them.
The landowners sued in district court, where the district judge ruled that the Board had reasonably considered the impacts of wind farms on the community and dismissed the case.
The district judge also found that the board had adequately canvassed public opinion to decide that the majority of community members were against the wind farms.
Landowners appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court, arguing a county-wide ban was unreasonable because it was based on the community’s objections to aesthetics and that the board failed to consider the landowners.
In addition, landowners argued that the board failed to consider whether wind farms could be constructed in areas that didn’t affect aesthetics.
The Kansas Supreme Court ultimately agreed with the district court’s ruling that it was reasonable for the board to decide that wind farms didn’t connect with the goals of the county’s comprehensive plan.
‘A Ponzi Scheme’
In other counties like Osage, county commissioners unanimously voted to not allow wind farms or solar energy developments within the county borders.
Osage County Commissioner Jay Bailey told The Epoch Times that the county’s planning and zoning board held four public hearings during which no county residents supported the projects.
“Financially, and on many other levels, these projects make no sense,” Bailey said, equating them to “a Ponzi scheme.”
“They come in and get a ten-year tax exemption, so they pay no taxes,” Bailey said. “They negotiate a pilot program in lieu of taxes, but it is a very minute amount compared to what they would pay. Then they are supposed to go on tax rolls.”
However, Bailey said to this day, no wind turbine company has paid a property tax.
“In my opinion, the windmills are for the rich people in this country who have figured out a way to take their money, put it into these, get all their money back, and be 100 percent tax-free,” Bailey said.
‘I Think it’s Borderline Criminal’
According to Sill, counties like Marshall, unlike Osage, were quick to invite NextEra in without a second thought, with the ICWEC being fast-tracked during COVID.
“I’m not against wind energy,” Sill said. “It has a valid place in the overall portfolio that we have. But I’m suspicious of how it’s being set up in Kansas. I’m suspicious of how it came to our county. I think it’s borderline criminal how some of the projects in Kansas came to fruition in the manner they did.”
In parts of the state where wind farms have been allowed, county commissioners have been voted out of office, Sill said.
“There’s a lot of animosity over this, a lot of Hatfields and McCoys,” he said. “I joke with my wife that the basketball gym in Frankfort isn’t big enough for the divided community that we’re going to be getting when this is all said and done.”
‘People Need to Know What’s Going On’
According to Barth’s research, there are 4,000 wind turbines in Kansas.
“There are approximately 36 counties that currently have wind complexes, and the average population of these counties is 5.2 people per square mile,” she said. “I live in Douglass County, which is one of the top five based on population. If you only look at rural Douglas County and not count the population of the city of Lawrence, there are 53 people per square mile where a wind company is seeking to construct wind turbines around 600 feet tall.”
Currently, there are no wind towers in Douglas County. However, NextEra is trying to move into the county.
“They are looking at wind towers that will be more than twice as tall as the tallest building in our county, and they’re looking at putting these in agricultural parts of the county,” Barth said.
In March, Barth proposed a budget proviso for funding a study that would have examined the effects of wind farms on health and the environment that ultimately failed, though it passed in the Agricultural and Natural Resources Budget Committee.
“The whole purpose of the study was to take a comprehensive look at all the different components and effects of wind farms because that study currently doesn’t exist,” Barth said. “There are bits and pieces of information out there, but not a single comprehensive study.”
The study would have been done by an independent third party, not sponsored by an energy company, Barth said.
“My primary interest in all of this is that we do the right thing for the people and that we don’t hurt individuals and families, whether that be financially or with their health,” Barth said. “These companies are basically shoving these wind farms down our throats to take advantage of these federal subsidies, which [are] our taxpayer dollars.”
For Barth, if a wind turbine company can’t stand on its own without subsidies, “it doesn’t need to exist.”
The rush to construct them has caused much harm, Barth said, which needs to stop.
“I want positive change for Kansas and the U.S.,” Barth said. “I care deeply about people, and I have a big problem with how we’re being taken advantage of. People need to know what’s going on.”
‘We Never Thought It Could Be Like This’
When the ICWEC was being constructed in the county, Ellen and Bob said they saw at least 30 trucks daily, with one person in each one driving up to 90 miles a day back and forth from their motel room to the construction site.
“It was a dust storm that blew past our farm every day,” Ellen said. “Why weren’t they driving battery-powered vehicles if they are promoting green energy?
Both Ellen and Bob still have many questions, but the answers won’t change what’s happened in Marshall County, and others, Ellen said.
“Every county these companies go to, they tear apart,” Ellen said. “It’s friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor. You walk into a store, and instead of talking, everyone just cringes. We never believed it could be like this.”
The Epoch Times contacted NextEra for comment.