A growing number of residents across Kansas find themselves trying to understand and manage a new set of complex issues regarding industrial-scale, renewable energy developments within their communities. Currently, wind energy projects are being proposed, built, and becoming operational in rural areas, at a staggering pace. Historically, industrial wind developments (IWDs), avoided areas with large populations, opting instead to build in counties having population densities of less than 10 people per square mile (typical of most western Kansas counties). However, since 2015, IWDs are being proposed and established in more heavily populated areas like Allen, Bourbon, Brown, Crawford, Labette, Marion, Marshall, McPherson, Nemaha, Neosho, and Reno counties, in the eastern half of Kansas. There are many more Kansas counties being groomed for future industrial wind energy developments
Wind and solar energy developers rely (almost entirely) on federal tax subsidies called Production Tax Credits (PTCs). These taxpayer dollars are used for the development, construction, and operation of wind and solar energy. Although PTCs provide massive amounts of capital to green energy initiatives, the subsidy programs are currently shrinking. Wind and solar developers are feeling the crunch to get new projects started while tax subsidies are still available.
In order to make this happen as quickly and cheaply as possible, developers are focusing on rural counties with no zoning regulations, but that do have high-voltage transmission lines already established. Non-regulated counties allow developers to begin construction years sooner than if they had to appear at public meetings and obtain multiple permits, variances, etc. Also, when developers don't have to build new power transmissions lines, it saves them tremendous amounts of time and money. Many rural counties in Kansas meet this criteria perfectly.
Wind energy developers know that their quest to build hundreds of 600+ foot tall turbines across Kansas native prairies, and throughout our rolling landscapes, will be met with grassroots resistance. The biggest opposition comes from residents who are concerned about living in the footprints of these massive projects. To minimize the impact of this opposition, many developers follow an effective - and time-tested - process for getting their projects up and running. This "script" is successfully played out again and again in small communities all across the U.S.:
One to two years after initial scouting:
Three to six months prior to beginning construction:
Note: At this point, once close-knit communities almost always become fractured. Friends and family members often find themselves pitted against one another.
1. Keep your focus simple and on-point
When you first begin researching the multitude of issues related to industrial wind developments (IWDs), it's easy to get pulled into other related issues. It's what's commonly referred to as "going down rabbit holes". Sometimes these rabbit holes lead to useful information, but they can often take you to places that become even more confusing and complex. For example, you might start examining the financial impacts IWDs could have on your local community, but then find yourself learning about how inefficient and costly wind energy is overall. As a local group of concerned citizens, your focus should be on the direct impact IWDs will likely have on you and your community, not on trying to take down an entire industry.
2. Have immediate, short-term, and long-term goals
Having a specific set of clear and common goals will help you to stay on-point and make your concerns clearer to others outside of your group.
Immediate goals might include convincing your county commissioners to establish a reasonable moratorium period for all industrial wind developments. Forming an organized group of concerned citizens (if you haven't already done so) should definitely be an immediate goal.
Examples of short-term goals could be putting together an advisory committee to examine various issues, positive and negative, specific to your area.
Long-range goals are things like trying to have city councils, township boards, and county commissions adopt very specific regulations related to future proposed industrial wind and solar energy developments.
3. Create several avenues for keeping your community informed
Keeping yourself, and others, up to speed on the progress of proposed IWDs is essential. This means routinely attending meetings held by city councils, county commissions, township boards, developers, and special committees and then sharing the information discussed. This is nearly impossible (and exhausting) for just a few people to accomplish so having a larger, well-structured group is vital. Create information sharing networks, such as Facebook groups, newsletters, roving town hall meetings, media coverage, websites, etc., that encourage everyone in your community, even those who may be supporting the idea of IWDs, to respectfully share their perspectives. Don’t draw lines in the sand.
4. Make sure information you share is reliable
You'll find a lot of contradictory "facts" about industrial wind energy. There is an abundance of misleading, incomplete, and even false information being shared on both sides of the debate. How can communities make reasonable and informed decisions with inaccurate data? Organizations, companies, and individuals who support the wind energy industry often cite scientific studies that dispute the concerns of local citizen groups. It's not uncommon for these studies to be taken out of context, to be outdated, or to be inaccurate. If you, as a small community group, are going to present information or data as fact to others, make sure you have researched your sources to the best of your ability and can back up your claims if challenged. Once you or your group loses credibility, it's very hard impossible to get it back again.
5. Share your struggles, accomplishments, and experiences
When community groups, from all over, begin sharing their experiences, they are amazed at how similar the concerns and struggles are. By sharing our experiences, our successes, and our failures with one another, we become hopeful and re-energized, and we become stronger. As grassroots movements grow, they become more vocal; as they become more vocal, they start getting the attention of state and federal lawmakers. If change is going to happen, it will begin in our cafes, grocery stores, and local gathering spots. From there, we can spread our message from local voting booths, to the State Capitol and beyond.